Monday, 24 October 2011

T-t-t-t-touch me!

Games come in all shapes, sizes, formats and age restrictions, but almost every single one has the same tool in common: hands. They hold controllers, flick switches, move mice, press buttons and tear hair out when it all goes to pot. You might argue that in fact the most used tool of a gamer is the brain; a fair point, I’ll concede. However, I’d argue that for the most part whilst you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, think with your brain etc – they all feed that information into actions carried out by the hands.
There are obvious exceptions; Kinect and to a certain extent Wii and Playstation Move remotes employ the whole body, and that strange new game where it measures the electrical activity of the brain and translates that into movement are all examples of such. But for the most part if you want to play a game, you’re going to need to use your hands.

I find it odd, then, that the one thing the hands do best – touch – is a sense which hasn’t really got past the “rumble pack” stage it was at about two decades ago. We have the capacity for such vast experiences through feeling something with our skin. We can tell shape, texture, viscosity, weight, movement and relative force. Thermoception (temperature), equilibrioception (balance) and even nociception (pain) are all wondrous functions which our body permits us to use and yet they are largely (with the exception of balance and the Wii fit system) unexplored in game design.

Of course, it’s an area which would have to be explored delicately. We don’t want developers shocking 12 year olds with 40000 volts, recreating the feeling of being shot in the gut by a high powered 50 cal sniper rifle etc. Furthermore, the ability to replicate the warmth, texture and movement of human skin would have many… *cough* sordid… connotations.


  1. Ooh Will you're in my area of expertise! There have been a number of haptic game devices, most notibly the Novint Falcon (~£300) which is a 3d joystick that replicates the texture of different objects as you move the ball over it. It works natively with the Orange Box and having played Half Life 2 with it, I can say it's awesome. Firing a gun gives recoil, hitting a wall means you can't move the joystick any further in that direction - it even behaves differently depending on the wall's make-up.

    There are also body suits in development which replicate pressure (both for gunshots and less destructive things). Combined with 3d VR (used already to treat post traumatic stress) you'd get a very realistic experience.

    The main barrier is a chicken and the egg scenario. There's no point buying an expensive body suit if only 2 games support it, and there's no point supporting it if only 100 people in the country have it.

    Novint Falcon:

  2. There is mouse and keyboard... everything else "claiming" to be some form of a game controller is essentially a jedi mind trick convincing you to accept lower functionality in place of a mouse and keyboard.

    Don't agree?  Check out the forums of any game which using multiple platforms that have to be kept segregated from one another because the console controller users have a snowflake's chance in a burning hell of beating someone who is using a mouse and keyboard on a decent gaming PC.



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