Sunday, December 13, 2015

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes: Tactile Interaction In Gaming

My favorite video game to come out this year isn’t entirely a video game. Allow me to explain.

 The game I’m talking about is the bomb defusing game made by Steel Crate Games “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”. If you’re not familiar with the game, here’s how it works:

One player uses the computer to defuse a suitcase bomb. They can see the bomb on the screen and must use the mouse to interact with it. They press buttons, cut wires, and such to race against the timer to defuse the bomb. All of the other players are away from the screen, where they can’t see it. These remaining players have a physical paper copy of a “bomb defusal manual”, which contains the overly complicated instructions on defusing the bomb. The players with the manual must communicate to the defuser what they have to do.

The reason I say that this game isn’t really a video game is simple: I’m convinced that the main reason that the game is so fun has nothing to do with the computer at all. The most fun part of the game, for me, is interacting with the manual: riffling through the pages trying to find the right section, tucking your finger in a page to flip back and forth, using your fingers to help keep track of complicated problems. There’s something about having actual paper in front of you that makes it feel like you’re actually helping to defuse the bomb in real life.

I’ve even played this game several times using the oculus rift, an augmented reality controller. As the defuser, I wore the goggles, and saw myself in the room with the bomb. I heard the ticking of the bomb in my ears, like the bomb were actually in the room. I turned my head in real life to look at the bomb from all angles. But when I went to cut the wires, I was still clicking the mouse. I didn’t feel myself pick up the scissors. I didn’t feel the wire give as I snipped it. Without any way of getting tactile feedback from a game, augmented reality doesn’t feel very real. It was much more fun being the guy on the manual.

I think the need for tactile interaction in gaming completely explains why people still play board games. There’s something about touching the pieces. The most fun board games have interesting pieces that we like to touch and move around. As mentally engaging as video games have proven to be, they have not matched board games in this physical regard.

I think that for people to take the field of virtual reality gaming seriously, it will need to account for physical interaction. Video game developers have clearly acknowledged that tactile interaction greatly improves the gameplay experience. This is why almost all game systems make use of vibrating controllers. But they really need to take it to the next level. Imagine if when defusing the bomb with the oculus rift, you could actually pick up the suitcase bomb and feel it in your hands. This new level of interaction, I think, would clearly make it way more fun to be the person on the computer.

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