Is the Death of the Controller Coming?


Ever since the Wii appeared on the gaming scene it appears that the other 2 console giants are looking to emulate the success of Nintendo’s oddly named white box with their own tentative forays into the world of motion control.

Sony showed more of it’s light up, wand like controller at TGS, demonstrating that it wasn’t just a dubiously shaped sword analogue, but that it could be used to manipulate environments in titles like Little Big Planet and thus add another level of play to such games. Whereas Microsoft is being slightly more adventurous with it’s Project Natal which promises to open players up to a whole new dimension of gaming by doing away with the controller completely, allowing players to use there bodies to interact with the gaming world.

Is the gaming industry, through these new control methods looking to attract the casual market by doing away with the traditional controller in favour of motion control. If so this may be a very worrying trend for a lot of hard core gamers.

The controller has always been a gamers link to the virtual on screen world and one through which he can demonstrate his skills and dexterity. From timing the perfect jump in Mario to setting up complicated combos in Street Fighter the controller is more than just a collection of sticks and buttons for moving around on-screen characters, it is an extension of the gamer. It is an input device with a huge amount of complexity, which like a drivers pedals and wheel give the gamer a level of control that must be earned through endless hours of practice. The controller provides us with a sense of achievement and level of interaction that can never be replaced by waving around phallic wands with lights on or swinging our arms around like epileptic lunatics in our living rooms.

As the industry expands it looks to further it’s reach by attempting to appeal to a wider and more diverse audience which results in more generic products and a lack of experimentation. This has already happened in the film and music industries where the focus has moved away from creativity and into slickly packaged, easily consumable products with short-lived appeal.

Without trying to appear elitist, even though this expansion of gaming is on the whole beneficial to the gamer; it brings with it certain detriments. Production values on games games have increased dramatically. Graphics and sound have improved, online infrastructure has expanded and the level of immersion in modern games has increased exponentially, but with this, difficulty levels have decreased and overall game design has become generic and cliched. This is as a direct result of the games company’s continuing need to appeal to the so called casual market. This race for the casual market, however, has one remaining obstacle for the industry and that is the controller.

If the console makers ever want gaming to truly rival other forms of media in terms of general popularity then they have to make the control method less intimidating. There is a definite learning curve associated with traditional controllers and though this is for many gamers, a large part of the appeal, for the the non gaming population it is a major barrier.

With all three console makers now focusing their efforts on new motion control systems is this the beginning of the end for the traditional controller. Will all those hours of practice and hard earned achievement points be nullified by a proverbial Mario Kart wheel. Are we destined to spend the remainder of our gaming years hunched over dusty controllers playing halo in dimly lit living rooms. Cynical octogenarians with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Hopefully in another ten years we can all look back fondly on this whole motion control thing as a failed gimmick and sell our Wiis and Natals on Ebay to sweaty nerds and rich collectors for vast sums of money and go back to hitting x buttons and waggling analogue sticks for the rest of our days.