December 2, 2011
Video games aren't so lazy anymore. We have come a long way since Pong.
The first arcade game, Pong involved bouncing a ball back and forth between two paddles that were controlled by a little dial. It led to the wave of home video game systems that dominated my youth, mostly starting with the Nintendo Entertainment System.
For about 15 years, these home game systems pretty much involved a hand-held controller you used to interact with the game. Most new systems just added buttons or moved them to different places. By the era of the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, you had three systems with controllers that were just full of buttons.
That changed in 2006 with the release of the Wii. I stood in line overnight to get one of them when they were first released. I'm glad I did because I didn't see one in a store again for months. The system came with Wii Sports, which was a simple set of sports games that showed off what you could do with the motion-sensitive Wii remote and nunchuk controllers. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess allowed you to do different motions with the remote to use your sword, shoot an arrow and block with your shield.
This was all new to home games, and it was all just awesome.
Last year, Microsoft upped the ante with its Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360. For an extra $150, you get a device that resembles a small horizontal speaker that includes a motion-sensitive camera and microphone. Part of the advertising campaign behind it is "you are the controller."
I bought an Xbox earlier in the year thinking I wouldn't really care much about it. It was all hype by the manufacturer until people could test the finished product. But after almost every review I read raved about how great this was, I joined in.
I haven't used it as much as I had hoped because you've got to have a lot of space. I realigned the furniture in my den to get as much as I can, but most three-bedroom houses just don't have a huge area. But it's still quite a blast.
Bowling on it is even better than the Wii Sports version that my parents and other baby boomer relatives and friends love to play. Instead of having to use a remote, you just mimic the motion of bowling. No hand-drying, no finding a ball with big enough holes yet light enough to use. No ugly shoes.
I'm really starting to enjoy the recently released Kinect Sports Season 2. The original Kinect Sports was very much a 1.0 product. It had fun games, but it seemed very limited. In the soccer game, you just pass the ball, shoot it and head it. The players don't really move aside from the little spot where you stand.
This has changed in Season 2. The game came in the mail a couple of days ago, and I have worn myself out playing a game of football the past two nights. It's still a limited game of football. You have six passing plays -- no running plays -- and four downs to either score a touchdown, kick a field goal or punt. But it's still a hoot. You crouch to get ready for the snap, stand up or say "ready, hike!" to snap the ball, and throw left, center or right to hit a receiver.
The real "wears you out" part is kick returns and after the catch. To advance the ball, you have to run in place. I mean run. You can't really do it lazily and gain much yardage. The higher you bring those knees, the faster your character runs. To avoid a tackler, you really have to make a move. I have only dodged a couple so far, mainly because I don't want to leap to the side and whack a chair.
This is all great news for our culture. More people started to play video games thanks to the Wii because it made everything much easier for casual gamers. Now with Kinect, my parents own a video game system. Who would've thought about baby boomers buying an Xbox 10 years ago when the original Xbox was first released?
There are still going to be plenty of games people like that involve a lot of button use. But we're moving into an era when these game systems will help people get in shape and have fun doing it. Now if these companies will just get on making a TV that makes athletes, coaches, referees and politicians hear it when we yell at the thing, our home theaters will be complete.