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Friday, November 10, 2006

Peripheral Vision

'Evolution or Revolution'? A question long asked by skeptical observers of technological development since Grah first saw Ug roll a smoothly chiselled stone out of his cave and proudly proclaim his new invention would soon bring about the Ford Ka. Ug claimed his Wheel would revolutionize the brontosaurus trade, but Grah saw the Wheel as only a simple refinement of the reliable and abundant Rock blueprint.

We now know better, of cause. Whether evolution or revolution, a helpful change to existing gadgetry will attain mainstream acceptance so long as it simplifies and/or amplifies the process. With our increased cranial size, we know that Grah was wrong to assume that Ug's changes were unnecessary. Ug realised the importance of experimentation, fostering new ideas into tactile matter and shaping the future through trial and error.

I propose that the PC as a medium for gaming is in danger of loosing its traditional role as a proving ground for new ideas; the revolutionary impetus is shifting towards the consoles, which by their generational nature require that players regularly embrace new technology. What I mean by this is that every five years or so the console gaming community is refreshed by new software and, (more importantly) new hardware. When a customer purchases a 'next generation' console, they can be assured to be provided with a totally re-invented gaming system. Today I hope to focus on the peripheral; the method of control traditionally associated with joysticks, joypads, keyboards and mice.


So, if the consoles can be said to be 'generational' in their method of upgrade, how can we view this process with PC hardware? The PC bares many similarities to that of consoles, both exist thanks to the cooperative integration of similar components; however, the burden and privilege of upgrading a PC falls solely on its owner/s. The artefacts that make up a PC could be said to exist on differing timescales - a graphics card may go from being cutting-edge to obsolete in three to four years, but a mouse or keyboard (the peripherals I talked of earlier) may never need to be replaced until a tragic caffeinated accident occurs. Because of this, peripherals are often overlooked for upgrade as owners tend to prioritise the replacement of objects assessed to be of greater immediate value to them - that means shiny new graphics and ultra-fast processing speeds.

For all of its strengths as the technologically superior cousin of the console, the PC could well loose its value as a format for original and inspiring ideas to be brought to life simply by failing to encourage its customer base to experience exotic peripherals, evolved from the reliable and abundant Keyboard and Mouse blueprints.

The problem would appear to be twofold:
Firstly - the Personal Computer's customer base is a vauge and abstract notion. How do we define a PC? Do we include Apple Macs? Microsoft may own a veritable monopoly over the PC operating systems, but not over PC gaming. Electronic Arts are certainly the most influential gaming publisher, but just how far does this influence extend? A massive degree of inter-corporate cooperation would be required to develop and release a reasonable alternative to the keyboard and mouse.
Secondly - even if the customer base could be defined as anyone who has used a keyboard and/or mouse to play a game within the last year, even if the hardware developers and the software publishers could come to a consensus as to what sections of peripheral must be chiselled in order to transform Rock into Wheel... why should anyone want to upgrade when the keyboard and mouse combination work perfectly fine?

Perhaps the solution to these problems will come through a saturation of knowledge. When the Wiimote and the motion-sensing Playstation 3 joypad are released, perhaps PC gamers will observe and come to prioritise the need to expand the capabilities of their own peripherals. The day that gamers' control method preferences place precision and speed as equally important factors along with immersion and enjoyment, my peripheral vision will be complete.

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