Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Want to be tactile with me?

You may have ran into this bit of news today: The newest version of Monopoly available in the UK doesn't use Monopoly money, instead, players use Visa branded credit cards.

Like a lot of other people, I flinched a little when I first read this. Then I thought about the neighbor kid (let's call him Lester) who used to come by now and then to play a friendly game. Regrettably, I have to inform you that Lester was a poor excuse for a human being due to his inability to stop stealing my $500's when I wasn't looking. He delighted in causing rushed bathroom breaks and the packing of the sofa cushions with Monopoly money (which would be wrinkled, forgotten and if found, never compelling enough to force a recount). Now I'm not saying that Monopoly plastic will solve all problems, but perhaps it could have saved poor Lester from going to hell.

And there, folks, is our silver lining.

But aside from Lester, most of my memories of Monopoly money are fond ones. Monopoly money creates a tangible and tactile experience. It's been a while since I've played but I can still remember the smell of the money, the lightness of it, the way it felt to slide it under the board and the greedy tug on it from Lester as I paid rent in North Carolina. I'm not a brain expert but from what I know, I'm pretty sure these memories reside in a unique place in my brain. So all this got me thinking: As a gamer, what has happened to this part of my brain?

If statisticians audit my life and what I've done for fun, I'm sure they'd find that I've spent an entire decade playing games. Therefore, I have no doubt that "fun" is deeply entrenched in a specific part of my brain, probably the visual section. Uh oh.

Have I in some way caused the other parts of my brain to atrophy? Quite honestly, it's very rare that I do anything fun with my hands (if you're snickering, you should be ashamed of yourself). I'm talking about the fun of "tagging" someone, the joy of catching a line drive or the heft of a bloated water balloon.

I recognize that I'm not a kid anymore, so chances are I wouldn't be experiencing those things anyways. But lucky for me, I did experience those things while I was a kid. With the risk of sounding like an old fart, will kids today have the same opportunities given the temptation of games and other "virtual" fun? Will they be able to exercise all of their senses as often as they should? Probably so, kids will be kids, but it brings me to my final point.

I now finally realize why the Wii is so exciting. I don't think it's because it's a new gadget that will allow you to play games in a new way. Rather, I think it's a new gadget that will allow you to play games in a very old way: with your hands and body. It's not throwing your first spiral but it's got to be better than just playing with your thumbs.

Take a look at Guitar Hero, DDR and EyeToy. The success of these products is no doubt because of the same reason. There's a simple formula here; the more of our brain that we engage, the more vivid the experience and the more enjoyable the memories. Let's face it, we are creeping up to the threshold of visual realism. The next step is to bring more of our brain into the experience with better physics and deeper interaction. I can't wait!

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