Beyond Xbox #8: Putting Project Natal into a box

A reasonable amount of time has passed since the unveiling of Project Natal by Microsoft and with that amount of time has come an abundance of gift giving. Gift giving not of the kind you’ll find on a birthday or an arbitrary holiday, but gift giving in the form of a metaphorical box is the what the occasion has ordered. Rather it be the seasoned game “professional” or a regular old gamer shooting the shit from his/her armchair there seems to be one thing we all love to do. Putting things into a box!


Over the time videogames have been in the eye of the mass consumer they have always had a magnificent struggle with the notion of being put into a box. A box, you know. That box we all like to pull out of thin air whenever its convenient to our cause when we have no other recourse to try to make ourselves feel better in an unfamiliar place. Naturally videogames aren’t immune to this phenomenon. From the very beginning gaming has been trying to wean its way from the mass hysteria known as “videogames are for kids”. Try as we might, gaming has yet to free itself from the clutches of the masses who’d be all to happy to call someone a “manchild” for enjoying a hobby that’s not become an everyone does it activity no matter how many Wii’s are sold.

So, onto this metaphorical box of ours. It’s great isn’t it? Its one size fits all, comes in every color possible, and falls under the “green” moniker all to well since it takes no use of any real energy to conjure up one. We all have one of these boxes tucked away and from time to time we’ll pull it out when we find ourselves in a conversation with ourselves or with many. Case in point, Project Natal. What is it exactly? A camera? A camera with some other guts in it most are unwilling to find out? Is it doomed to be vaporware already? Or is it a glorified Eye Toy?

Moving forward, what do all of those questions have in common? You would have had to pull out your trusty little box as you setup shop before you asked anyone of them. Looking around at the reaction to Project Natal makes it overly obvious that most of us are too lazy to really put any real thought into what Project Natal could really be. Besides, conjecture is all we can accomplish at this point in time. We are likely to be wrong, sure, but this is no time to pull out that fake ass box we continue to use to save us from actual critical thought.

It’s understandable to be cautious when it comes to new technology. To say we’ve been letdown by it in the past is a galactic understatement of course, yet whenever it comes to tech that may change the way we converse with the very thing we already have declared so much love for, all we can seem to do is batten down the hatches in preparation to be letdown again.

Project Natal can be thought of in one of two ways: A new technology that can change the way we interact with our beloved hobby or a technology that’s trying to push its way into what we already know for no good reason. Either way you think about it, chances are you’ve fallen into that second camp.

Why is this “Natal” trying to impede into my familiar world? I like my controller. To many buttons my ass! Have you seen a remote control? A barrier my ass!

I know you’ve thought something like that, haven’t you? It’s okay to feel threatened, but lets not stop there. It’s supremely shallow to only think of Natal as a replacement for the traditional controller. The amount of distain for the Wii from those so-called hardcore gamers out there has understandably created lots of anxiousness all around as we see Microsoft try attempt after attempt to grab a piece of that Wii pie. Lets make no mistake, Xbox 360 owners are almost assuredly hoping for this casual swing the Xbox has taken over the last few years with things like Lips, You’re in the Movie’s, and Scene it? to fail. A feeling of desertion has set in with Nintendo’s Wii and Xbox 360 owners aren’t about to feel the same way toward their console as well.

So, what is it we should be thinking about Project Natal besides “That ‘Minority Report’ stuff looks pretty cool”? Simply, Natal is a possible means to an ends for those who continue to moan and groan about there not being any innovation in the gaming space. Bringing it back to the Natal replacing the controller debate, why is it that that’s the only thing Natal can be used for? Without preset button presses determining the amount of interaction we have with games or anything else (sounds familiar if you’ve seen the E309 Xbox Media briefing, huh?), one piece of that innovation so many claim to crave could become a thing of the past and turn into a reality. Fighting change is what humans do best and here’s yet another case where change is called for half heartedly.

Then there’s Milo. Boy oh boy, right? Peter Molyneux could sell us anything couldn’t he? His enthusiasm is remarkable at all times. Unfortunately that causes us to become skeptical immediately. Is it unjust skepticism this time? Why yes. No one wants to feel like they’ve been ‘had’ of course, but it comes a time when you need to overcome the issue of not seeing the forest for the trees so to speak.

What would gaming become if we didn't have to stick to the convention and natural retention that us long time gamers have become accustomed to? Also, the requirement of skill is one thing, but a skill of retention is ridiculous. It’s much the same as a non sports fan trying to find his/her way in a world of sports where they have nothing to draw from. Ever wonder why so man people don’t get sports? How could you if you don’t have a long history of stats and player relationship built up over time?

Preset reactions to the player as we’ve all come to expect from games (also known as “good AI”) have done its job. So what’s next? Why are we putting Natal into a box? Will you notice when the moment of “Well...BAM!! There it is” happens, or will you still be fighting the good fight for the boxes of the world?