My Weirdest Kinect Experience So Far

Does this look like a Kinect game to you? An Xbox 360 game that has you doing some body-puppetry of an avatar on your TV? Well, it is the Kinect game I played yesterday.

This is a screenshot of Motion Sports, a Ubisoft launch game for the Xbox 360 Kinect that takes a peculiar route. Yes, "you are the controller." Your body manipulates the actions in six themed sports games, including the only one Ubisoft is letting people like me play yet, American Football.

The peculiarity is that you do not control a ghost-form of yourself nor a cartoony Avatar. You control a guy that looks like he is from a high-end Madden game. For the vast majority of you reading this, that means that you will be controlling a character that looks nothing like you and looks awfully like someone who is their own person — i.e. someone who isn't going to stick their arm out just because you stick your arm out.

Motion Sports' American Football mode gave me my first experience controlling a realistic-looking Avatar. It was an odd experience, one that had me repeatedly forgetting that I was in control. The American Football mini-game is simple. You control a running back who is trying to avoid opposing players as he runs to the end zone. The running is automatic. But you can jump, duck, stiff-arm or even do a 360-degree spin to evade. If you mapped this to a controller it would be both simple and obvious to control: a button press to jump, maybe a shoulder-button pull to dodge right. When it is just your body, though, I found it hard to even remember that I was in control.

I would see the guy run on his own and see a defender running at him. I would jump and my guy would jump. Then more automatic running and the approach of another defender. I would forget I was in command and my guy would be tackled. This happened several times.

Why?

Consider the avatars we have controlled with our bodies during the brief era of motion-controlled games.

We have controlled unrealistic-looking characters rendered by the relatively low-powered Wii.

Those of us who have played Microsoft's Kinect games at press events have controlled cartoonish Avatars.

With an Eyetoy, we've all had a chance to control digital "reflections" of ourselves.

In all of those cases, it was easy for me to either recognize the puppet-puppeteer relationship between the character and myself or the reflection of me in the TV. Perhaps those set-ups allow the brain to remember the relationship better. I learned on my first try with a nearly photorealistic version of a character under my motion command that it is easier to forget the connection. I am not sure why that is..

After a few tries at the American Football mode I was able to remember I was in control. There was an odd dissonance, though, the feeling of doing something new and something, well, almost invasive of the character's space. When I control a Madden football player with a controller, I am giving him directions. When I control a Madden-style football player with my gestures? That feels exotic and almost... I'm not sure of the term.. invasive? Possessive (in the possession sense?).

This is an odd one, an experience I didn't expect to have and a reaction I don't quite yet understand.