Motion-Based Gaming on Phones: The Ticket to Public Humiliation

I am an unrepentant gaming enthusiast, and there are lengths I will go for my hobby that might puzzle normal people with normal lives. I’ll stand in the rain outside a Best Buy for a Nintendo Wii on launch day; I’ll surf the Web at all hours for the latest gaming reviews or demos; I’ll scream creative obscenities — if I do say so myself — at hordes of Covenant aliens and grotesque Flood monsters who keep me from advancing to the next level of “Halo 3.”

I tend to draw the line at bizarre behavior in public for my gaming. However, if the wildest dreams of several technology companies are soon realized, you’re liable to soon see people doing strange things on city streets with their cell phones, such as pretending to fish or bowl. Or you’ll watch young, well-dressed professionals using their Apple iPhones as steering wheels. Or you may find yourself on a plane, sitting next to someone who is operating under the delusion that his Nintendo DS handheld game player is really a Gibson Les Paul guitar.

Do you ring the flight attendant? Do you dial 911? Or do you simply sit back and become entertained by those who are entertaining themselves with the next new thing in gaming?

Games on Devices That Make You Move

Motion-control gaming, interactive gaming, movement-based gaming … whatever you want to call it, this latest trend is obviously inspired by the phenomenal success of Nintendo’s Wii gaming console. Since its launch in November 2006, the gaming world has welcomed those who want to play tennis, bowl or box in the privacy of their living rooms simply by waving the wand-like Wiimote control at their TV set — as long as the long, thin black bar that is the Nintendo motion-sensing device is taped to the top of that TV.

A chance to completely immerse themselves in a video game for those who were previously intimidated by endless combinations of buttons and triggers on PlayStation and Xbox controllers has resulted in worldwide sales of 25 million Wiis, according to Nintendo — not to mention now-famous media reports of senior citizens setting up Wii bowling tournaments in the rec rooms of their retirement centers.

The new concept in gaming is now to put you in the game by any means necessary. Since the Wii magic is limited to your home entertainment center, why not become involved in the games with the handheld device of your choice? Thanks to components called “accelerometers,” which can sense changes in movement — Nintendo Wiimotes have them too — now cell phones can provide you with one more way to distract you from work and/or family.

Calling Motion-Based Gaming on Phones

Sony Ericsson’s F305 is the latest example of accelerometer-induced gaming madness. The phone will come preloaded with three games: Bowling, Bass Tournament and Jockey with dozens more available via a downloading service.

The F305 becomes available this fall — no price details yet — and, in my opinion, comes with a fatal flaw: You’ll have a 2-inch screen on the phone, but it will be a little hard to view your progress when you’re waving the phone around away from your eyes while pretending to throw a strike or hook that virtual 15-pound largemouth bass. Don’t get too nervous in the clutch; sweaty hands could mean airborne phones and little pieces of accelerometer scattered all over the pavement.

Developers have also started to take advantage of the accelerometer in Apple’s iPhone. Polarbit’s “Raging Thunder” puts you in a driving game with the iPhone as your steering wheel. Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, which saw the premiere of the new 3G iPhone, featured a demonstration of another driving game, “CroMan Rally.”

Pickin’ and Grinnin’ on Your DS

It’s not accelerometer technology but good old-fashioned touchscreen magic that powers the new “Guitar Hero: On Tour” for the Nintendo DS. Plug in the guitar grip controller with the four-color “fret” buttons into the DS, and strum the screen with your guitar pick-like stylus, and suddenly you’re Eric “Slowhand” Clapton on your handheld gaming device. Again, there’s the challenge of holding the gaming device and playing it in a new way while also trying to look at a screen that is, shall we say, a tad smaller than your 46-inch HDTV at home.

And while the DS’s headphones guarantee no noise to bother anyone sitting next to me in the coach section on that long flight from Seattle to New York, there’s the obvious distraction of writhing in seat 42D, Carlos Santana-style, while navigating “Black Magic Woman” at expert level.

Gaming’s Future Set in Motion

Of course, developers are no doubt already coming up with more ideas for handheld, motion-based games than you can shake a phone at. Come to think of it, shaking a phone or other accelerometer-enabled device could indeed be a new way to score points in a game — not to mention scaring away fellow commuters on a subway train.

That could lead to some necessary rules of etiquette for both gamers and passersby: If you’re watching someone play a motion-based game, try not to laugh or point too much. Also, if you’re playing these games in public, try to keep the creative obscenities to a minimum.

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