gamesVSlife: In the defense of things that go “click”
posted on 08.26.12 at 08:45 AM EDT by (@admeady)
Because buttons are a pressing matter.

Buttons are awesome. Attach a developer’s creativity to a lump of plastic and a bit of silicon and we have the power to do almost anything. We can make those unfathomable leaps, we can go toe-to-toe with the fiercest of foes – we can be somebody else, somewhere else. Yeah, those small pieces of plastic are truly incredible things.

And so to describe controllers – or anything with buttons, really – as a barrier is a bit absurd. I’d argue that buttons are an enabler – they empower us beyond our wildest dreams. If I had to choose between the two, motion controls would be out the window faster than a pretend serial killer in particularly ridiculous story. They chain us to our physical limitations: we can’t double jump; we can’t wield oversized swords – and we can’t really do much of anything beyond the realm of the button.

That’s the thing – motion controls contradict the inherent pleasure of video games. That need to escape to another world and do things that my body could only dream of. Put me in front of an experience that’s inherently tied to what my body can actually do, and it’s reduced to well, relatively little.

So, to interact with an experience not-so-seperated from reality is usually mundane. If I can control the protagnist’s move set with my own body, then the chances are that it probably isn’t worth doing. And if my movements are merely commands to trigger the on-screen action, as opposed to the tracking and mimicking of my movement, then I’d ask “What’s the point?”.

That’s not to say that motion control has no place, though. It’s to say that they aren’t an all-encompassing solution. Resident Evil and Silent Hill are experiences defined by human limitations in bizarre and terrifying situations. To overcome these obstacles despite such limitations can be incredibly rewarding.

Buttons, though, let me escape “me”. Children tap into their imaginations to pretend they’re defeating an evil wizard or saving a member of royalty in distress. Video games are simply an expansion of that imagination, and buttons are the most efficient and effective way of joining the two.

But there’s certainly no denying that buttons can be tricky. With a myriad of things that go “click” on any given controller, it’s not difficult to see why the interface might turn some away. Software, and not a radical and limiting shift in hardware, is the answer. Developers don’t have to create tutorials with the assumption that their audience is a gaming know-it-all.

They shouldn’t be afraid to include live-action demonstrations on how to use a controller. Make them optional, of course – but don’t be afraid to accommodate the newest of the newcomers.

In short, I don’t want to see the controller or the keyboard sacrificed in the name of “accessibility”. I want to see more would-be gamers pick up the controller, to become empowered like I am every time I traverse the rooftops of Venice or pilot a Warthog.

And I certainly don’t want motion controls shoehorned into an experience for the sake of novelty or gimmickry – yeah, that really pushes my buttons.

gamesVSlife is a weekly column dedicated to video games, life, and how games relate to life. Feel free to leave your comments and stories below.

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  • Fenrir

    The thing I find most uncomfortable with motion controllers is the constant knowledge that I am in fact, using a motion controller. See with a more traditional controller, I don’t feel any sort of barrier like that, the control just becomes an extension of myself, and it really does allow for better immersion (at least for me). 

    • http://www.di.fm Spicy Chicken

      Agreed. Essentially, the ‘suspension of disbelief’, that all imaginative media aims for (be it film, book, comic or videogame) is actually enhanced by traditional controllers, at least most of the time. When I’m playing Tekken for example, the moves feel natural, and I’m ‘used’ to being able to pull off insane martial arts that I’m simply not able to in real life due to a lack of flexibility.
      However, trying to move like that in front of a screen (even doing moves that I CAN do) in order to control a character would, paradoxically, feel less realistic and more artificial, effectively making the experience less immersive and shattering any suspension of disbelief completely and ruining one the most enjoyable aspects of a good fighting game (or good game in general).

      And speaking of fighting games, if EVER there was a genre that needed work on it’s tutorials… >_<
      I mean seriously, I've been playing fighting games my whole life, and the lack of tutorial development is pretty tragic. I really feel for anyone that actually wants to learn the more advanced techniques in the latest KOF XIII for example. I've pretty much given up being able to do the bigger combos myself to be honest, too stressful. But that's another rant for another time. :P
      Great article as always Adam, I was reading it waiting for something I could give a different perspective on as I like to do, but you pretty much nailed everything I have to say on the subject. I just wish developers would focus more on refining/perfecting traditional controls instead of wasting time with gimmicky motion controls.
      They have their place of course, but it's limited, VERY limited.

  • rockman29

    This is going to sound terribly rude, but this is little analysis of why buttons are important is just scratching the surface of why buttons are better. The fact that you conceded that buttons can be tricky is just an apology to the proponents of Kinect that really think Minority Report is the future of gaming, when it just sucks and there is actual proof why it sucks and can’t be better than having buttons or a combination of motion controls and buttons (Move, Wii).

    “Buttons, though, let me escape “me”. Children tap into their imaginations to pretend they’re defeating an evil wizard or saving a member of royalty in distress. Video games are simply an expansion of that imagination, and buttons are the most efficient and effective way of joining the two.

    This isn’t true, and it’s not why buttons are better, and it’s not a matter of opinion. Buttons don’t let people escape from their bodies. They act as an extension of the whole. This is the reason a hockey stick or a basketball or a steering wheel on a car don’t fly out of your hand when you use them. Imagination has about zero to do with why buttons are better. What you see and visualize and interpret from the screen is not a hallucination, it’s actually there and acts as feedback to users to respond to.

    You don’t ‘become the basketball.’ Nor do you ‘become the steering wheel.’ The steering wheel and car become a part of you.

    The plasticity of the brain is such that repeating motor activity constantly rewires connections in the brain to suit the action. Practicing your handstands or dribbling in basketball makes you better at them. This is because of the rewiring in the cerebellum that allows us to re-interpret the mistakes that we make and turn it into a different action.

    The most important aspect of this rewiring is the feedback from visual, auditory, and motor cues. The very purpose of intrafusal muscle fibres is to send back the information of position and speed at which our muscles move. But the brain does not only interpret just what our muscles do, because the cues also interpret what our hands, eyes, and ears are all sensing as well. Feedback, again, is what is most important in being able to adjust to our new situation. Through our hands we get tactile responses, through our eyes we are able to visualize, and through our ears we get even more of a sense of our surroundings and balance and position in the world.

    Through the tactile nature of buttons, a basketball, or a steering wheel, a controller or a car becomes an extension of our body as interpreted by our mind. That hockey stick becomes a firm hand to make that slapshot or wristshot. If it couldn’t be interpreted as one in the same, or if we didn’t have that tactile feedback, we could never manage the same ability to respond.

    This is why a car has a steering wheel, and isn’t controlled by Kinect motion controls. You want Kinect controlling the car beside you? Will Nascar or F1 drivers ever replace their steering wheels with a motion controller? Fighter pilots? Hell no (well this is actually for future discussion, but the military’s ‘motion controls’ are far beyond just Kinect, and wire deeply into pilots brains, which is completely different, and also comes into problems because there is no feedback from motor function). And why buttons are better.

    • Adam Meadows

      You’re not being rude at all! When I said that buttons allow me to escape “me” – and why I didn’t say “my body” – I was merely saying that they’re the most effective and immersive way for me to adopt another identity. I’m not Adam Meadows when I pick up a controller as such – I can be War, for example.
      In retrospect, you’re probably right about the imagination part. I would argue, though, that on a certain level, we need our imaginations to make video games enjoyable. It may not be a deliberate thing. A part of me thinks I’m Shepard when I play Mass Effect. Of course, I would never say “I am Shepard”. Buttons are merely my preferred and what I think is the most effective way of allowing this to happen. Still, you’re right in the sense that buttons, explicitly, have nothing to do with the imagination.You’ve certainly taken a more real-world, scientific approach to this. I love it. 

    • http://www.di.fm Spicy Chicken

      Interesting, I remember someone at Namco using this argument in favour of arcade style racing games. Basically saying that the lack of proper feedback in a console racing game (not including the use of super-expensive specialist equipment obviously, and even then it’s still limited) actually makes it harder to control a truly realistic racing game, vs a more arcade style game, which is better suited to the limitations of a typical controller, as it accounts for the lack of ‘true’ feedback with a gameplay model that negates any real need for it.
      So in other words, even if you have a steering wheel attached to a seat attached to pedals with a little ‘rumbling’ going on, it’s still a pale imitation of the real sensation or feedback you get when actually going around a corner at 150mph. The g-forces alone are incredibly hard to replicate for example, and I know of no commercially viable system that even attempts such a thing. Now try applying that to a control scheme where the steering wheel isn’t even fixed to anything and, well… >_>

      Saying that, I think what I got from the article was the inherent irony (and untruth) in the idea that motion controllers are somehow enablers that ‘free-up’ the gameplay experience, when actually all they really do is compound the limitations of it. But still, the complete lack of real feedback in motion gaming is also a major flaw, no question.
      To put it another way, because motion gaming tries so hard to mimic actual acts, our brains and bodies instinctively notice all the inconsistencies and unnatural aspects that much more, meaning it feels even less natural than using a controller, as the disconnect between game and player is widened, not diminished.

      To wit, some might still argue we ‘are the controller’ when motion gaming, but human beings don’t make for good control pads. :P

  • xMCXx

    Videogames do need buttons. ‘Nuff said. xD

  • http://www.facebook.com/Bladez0fDr4v3n Sae-Won Yoon

    Unless someone has thought of anything outside of touch (or rather cursor based) gameplay and button context-sensitive concepts. It will stil be the tried and true way to play video games;

    relaxing on a couch with a portable or controller in hand.
    (Ben Yahtzee Croshaw said it best.)

    I’ve been more of less out of touch of gaming in the past few years, Almost just straight up not purchasing games, because developers are getting the brazingly stupid idea that motion gaming is what will be the next future template.

    In a way, least in my own opinion, Nintendo and Microsoft are respectively to blame here, Nintendo for not using the idea in the first place to its potential and microsoft for trying to make it more accessible, or as i like to call it, “shooting themselves in the foot because they think it’s somehow a good idea.”

    I own a wii, yes but the games that I truly enjoyed were the ones that used minimal motion controls. (The Last Story and/or Pandora’s Tower to name a few.) 

    Yet despite the appeal of say Kingdom Hearts 3D or Kid Icarus, I decided against getting a 3DS. 
    Not because the lack of games per se, but rather the fear of developers not using the OTHER gimmicks Nintendo thought to shove into the hardware, thus making a bit costly.

    I really don’t like the way Nintendo is trying to bring motion-controls into the mix in the first place. I was already irked the fact that BECAUSE they tried to double it as a way to make games more family friendly, I feel like it bastardized the market as opposed to widening it.

    Should they have just made a console with similar graphical specs akin to 360 and ps3, WITHOUT the motion controls. I feel confident in saying that gaming today wouldn’t be so….all-over-the place.

    On a flipside, Microsoft HAS made some interesting hardware, however that’s primarily because it’s being used for things outside of video games. I could go on about how they metaphorically raped and killed Rare, but that’s something for another time. What I will condemn them for however, is how they are trying to push the Kinect, it just feels completely unneeded. I will say it IS good for an occasional workout, but that’s pretty much it.

    (I’m hoping to any that reply to this doesn’t call me out for being wrong.)

  • EspadaKiller

    I agree, video games would still need buttons. I mean I had grown up playing games using buttons and I don’t see how touch screen or motion controls are ever gonna replace button based gaming.

    Controllers and Keyboards FTW!

  • 浪黒雷 (ro-kurorai)

    I need that tactile feeling while gaming, buttons ftw.

  • almostautumn

    I like good games, despite the interface.

    Also, are people saying buttons are on the way out or something? Because this shouldn’t even be considered rude when I say, “That’s idiotic.”

    I don’t really care about the interface, so long as it works alongside the game. Touch, motion, buttons— just give me a good game.