A question of immersion
Realistic peripherals bring us closer to the action, and the gaming world could do with more of them
Gran Turismo 5 is enough of a reason to buy a Playstation 3 all on its own. The highly rated racing simulator is the closest most people will get to driving a modded E55 AMG Mercedes, a Bugatti Veyron, or a ’71 Mach 1 Mustang pushing out over 730bhp. Its realistic portrayal of racing these vehicles around real world tracks is enough to put a massive grin on anyone’s face.
But not many people smile as much as I do. I’m the proud owner of a Logitech G27 racing wheel, a top quality racing peripherals that offers me all the comforts found in a modern sports car. I can feel the wheel fight back at me as I over-steer around hammerhead at the Top Gear test track. I can feel the break in traction as the rear left clips the grass and sends me into a smoky spin. I have the satisfaction of smashing my foot into the pedals and through the floor in the hopes of getting gold around the Nurburgring. Tell me your standard PS3 controller can match that.
Aviation enthusiasts have the same immersive ride, thanks to a range of specialist equipment that allows them to do pilot stuff in a way similar to how real pilots do real pilot stuff; I’m sure that beats fiddling with a joystick. Sure these specialist peripherals cost a lot of money (the G27 will set you back more than R3,000, and I don’t even want to get into the aviation kit), but they are still a lot cheaper than the real life experience and will find their way into an enthusiast’s home.
If this level of immersion is worth the cost, then why don’t we see more specialist gear being made?
Perhaps it’s the cost. Despite the obvious price issue, some are willing to pay for a specialized peripheral. The cost of making a sniper rifle frame that produces an accurate reproduction of the recoil of a .50 cal may just exceed the cost effective window manufacturers have to work within to produce products and stay profitable.
Perhaps it’s the complexity. Cars are easy to drive with a universal control, because most cars share many common aspects – steering, pedals, and gear change for one system can do it all. However, when it comes to first person shooters there are a range of different guns one can use to attack the enemy. The pistol peripheral would have to differ from the shotgun peripheral, which would differ to the one used for SMGs. Changing peripheral as quick as you change weapons in game is nearly impossible, especially when you can pick up other gear as you go.
Perhaps it’s a safety issue. Assuming such a device could be made, the first time a 13 year-old tried to quick-scope, they may end up with a dislocated shoulder and a new appreciation for the dangers of weapons.
Perhaps it’s an experience issue. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up around guns and hunting, and I’ve fired a range of weapons including many of the sniper rifles found in realistic first person shooter games. No amount of gaming can prepare you for the recoil, the sound, and the shockwave the gun produces in the instant you pull the trigger. Many people experience what driving a vehicle feels like, even if it’s a go-kart or pedal car of some kind; but few experience what it’s like to fire off a volley of shotgun slugs at a target.
Perhaps it’s society worried about mass producing killers. With the number of violent events blamed on video games, and their role in helping perpetrators of violence train (Anders Breivik and Call of Duty spring to mind), more realistic scenarios mean more ammo for those who would ban violent video games altogether.
Perhaps people just don’t care about realism. Maybe gamers don’t care about using more realistic equipment and would rather remain more competitive by using a keyboard and mouse. Perhaps social gamers who enjoy a bit of gaming at the end of the day don’t want a realistic feel, but rather want some mindless action that doesn’t require much effort to enjoy.
And finally, perhaps some games just aren’t suited to dedicated peripherals. Guitar hero and Gran Turismo may be perfectly suited to immersive peripherals, and modern shooters and platformers may not be. The vast open spaces and impossible situations game characters find themselves in may not translate into peripherals as successfully, and if this is the case, what is the point?
Motion control and augmented reality may be the future of gaming, but is that what we want right now? I’m not entirely convinced.
Gaming companies strive for more detailed scenes, complete with fancy lighting, realistic shadows and facial expressions that surpass Kristen Stewart’s best attempts at a smile (okay, so that last one isn’t particularly difficult).
Sound engineers work hard to make sure the engine noise of a Honda S2000 is realistic right through the rev range and that the wiz of bullet just inches from your left ear sounds exactly like the real deal.
As for peripheral engineers? They slap a new coat of paint on a current product and market it as the Mass Effect 3 edition; job done, we can go home.