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Motion controllers provide gamers more activity, but should there be a warning label?

Posted by: Ben Berry at 8/19/2010 7:36 PM

We all know this story by now, but when the current generation of home gaming consoles launched Microsoft and Sony continued in the direction they'd been headed for a while; take advantage of the latest and greatest in processing power, graphics, and emerging televsion resolution increases, no one knew for sure that Nintendo's choice to avoid the hardware race and focus on the interface between human game that we'd get to where we are now.

This fall, Kinect and Playstation Move will hit the market, proving that motion based control is truly the next step to revolutionize the way we play games, and not just how we hear and see them, or how fast our game boxes can draw them. This lead to an interesting article Chuck forwarded me from Wired in which a psychologist suggests that games should include an exercise label. This label, somewhat based on the idea of the ESRB rating, or the nutrition label on groceries.

In theory, I can see some logic behind the idea. It could allow the developers to provide the average number of calories burnt in an hour of playing the game. This information could be used to pick games based on how much energy you want to expend playing the game, and to help judge if the amount of exercise in the game is appropriate for your level of fitness. In fact, there are enough gaming sensors out there that the game may even be able to tie your level of fitness to you in-game avatar. Such a process might be hinted at by the fact that Microsoft has deemed now the time to redesign the XBox avatars are being replacedwith a new more realistic version in time to coincide with release of Kinect.

Unfortunately, those are exactly the reasons why we shouldn't be looking to label the exercise in a video game.

There's a commercial right now, I'm pretty sure it's for Spagetti-O's where the mom tries to stop the dad from mentioning how many servings of vegetables are in the product that the kid loves. She does this of course because once a kid finds out something is good for them, they're a lot less likely to ask for. There's just something about children and adolescent minds that make us want the things we shouldn't have. The same would go for video games; taking a terrific game that just happens to have a significant amount of motion based control in it and putting an exercise label on it is going to turn off some gamers. Gamers who would normally pick up the game strictly because of the quality of gameplay would be forced to think about the effort it takes to play the game because of the label.

The second point about determining if a game has a level of fitness that exceeds what you should be playing is much like taking up an athletic sport or hobby. How many of us actually do consult a doctor before doing so, and if that doctor were to recommend against the activity, how many would continue on to participate anyways? Plus, baring consultation of a doctor, I think it's very difficult for a person to determine what games are outside their own level of fitness. Further, just because some aspects of a game might push a persons physical limits slightly, does that mean we don't want them to even try? If the player were just to spend some of the effort needed to play the game, that's still better than no effort at all.

Personally, I've been interested in motion control for a long time, but my interest become more serious with my first E3 visit back in 2005. The technology has come a long way in a short 5 years, but we're just now seeing the motion controlled games become mainstream. The last thing we'd want to do right now is to stiffle the art by labeling the games as some form of measured exercise with a nice interface. There may well come a time when games should wear an activity level indicator, but that time is not now.