Imagine you woke up one morning with an itch in your lower back. This itch just got worse no matter how much you scratched it. Then over the coming weeks you noticed a protrusion where your coccyx is. This protrusion got longer and longer.
Too embarrassed and scared to go and see your doctor it continues to grow until one day it wiggles! Gradually you begin to gain some sort of control over it, until one year after first waking up with the itch you have a four-foot prehensile tail!
The last few months have proved very difficult for you, not only have you had the psychological effects to deal with but also the practical issues, such as hiding it from your friends and family.
Unable to continue as you are, you finally decide to visit your doctor. Of course he stifles a laugh at first and asks you to undress so that he can see the tail in question. His laugh turns into an open mouth stare when he sees it. Things happen very quickly from that point forward.
You receive offers from many medical research institutions even the military are interested. What benefit could this be to the soldier? You submit to various tests and procedures. Ultimately the scientific community is stumped as to the cause. They can offer you little hope or help. Finally you decide to stop the research and try to get on with your life.
A normal life is obviously impossible and you have become famous and wealthy. Your day is filled with TV appearances, product endorsements, public engagements etc. You have special clothes made to accommodate the tail and that year’s fashion revolves around you and your tail. Eventually you become bored with all the attention and withdraw from the limelight.
Just over one year after visiting your doctor you at last sit down to a game of Half-Life 2. Something you haven’t done for a loooong time! You slip back into the role of Gordon Freeman with ease, like riding a bike, which by the way has become great fun now that you have a tail! And while we are on the subject it’s worth mentioning that you have been officially banned from a number of professional sports including surfing, swimming, and all contact sports especially wrestling.
However, after a couple of weeks of playing HL2 you begin to get a feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. You feel limited in some way. Has the tail affected you hand-to-eye co-ordination? You don’t think so. You suck as much as you did before! No, it’s something else. Another week goes by and you realise what is the problem.
Games should offer opportunities not found in real life, things that are normally confined to your imagination. If YOU had been Gordon Freeman YOU would have caught that headcrab with you tail and thrown it at the Combine Soldier. And there we have it; Gordon Freeman doesn’t have a tail. Playing this game is actually limiting your options not extending them.
Okay, so what was the point of my silly little story? One area that interests me is how we interact with the games we play. Of course it’s natural for us to try and represent the real world as accurately as possible in a game. You only need to see the attention given to graphics and now to physics to see that.
I respect and applaud these efforts but am concerned that we are missing an opportunity to experience, abate virtually, other realities, or perhaps more correctly, other perceptions.
Let’s continue with the tail concept. How could we represent this on screen? Well, a third person view would be simply and probably has been done but what about a first person view. Touch is (at the moment) out of the question, so what other options do we have?
I have two solutions, both as uninspiring as each other! Firstly we could have a screen within a screen. Just like the mirror in a car. This mirror could be positioned either at the top or at the bottom of the screen. The size and viewing angle would need experimentation. Again this has probably already been done.
My second solution is to bring the tail through the players’ legs so that it is facing forwards. This would perhaps be a little too phallic for some and also negates one huge advantage of a having a tail, that of protection from behind.
One question I’ve just thought of is? Do animals that have tails have a wider angle of eyesight? I don’t think so, Primates all have prehensile tails and they are predators and therefore forward facing eyes. In fact while we are on the subject? Does any animal use it tails for combat?? Perhaps it’s only used for balance and movement, in which case you could almost forget about it!
So far I’ve only discussed representation on the screen but there is the control issue to consider. How exactly would you control a tail? Assigning keys to different functions sounds sensible but we already have quite a lot of keys to use and remember already. The keyboard wasn’t design for playing games.
I’ve perhaps laboured the point but it comes down to this: Our representation of characters in games is very closely linked to our perceived reality. There will be some readers saying; Well of course that’s the case. What did you expect? My answer: ?I expect more! Gaming gives us the opportunity to explore and experiment with not only perception but also physicality, although I suspect they are closely related.?
Considering the effort that goes into creating better and better graphics and physics it’s no wonder how much they have advanced. But why can’t the same be said for how we interact with our games? What’s the most innovative thing to be release recently regarding human input? Probably Sony’s Eye Toy! Not much to shout about is it?
I was hoping to have done some research for this article before publishing it but I just haven’t had time. One of the areas I wanted to research was if there any games or mods (First Person) where you played as a alien and as such had extra limbs or other elements. In fact as I type this I seem to recall two Unreal mods; one where you played as a Skaarj (They have tails) and one where you plays as a Na Pali (They have four arms). Does anybody know whether you could use the tails or extra arms? If so, how?
Of course I don’t have the answers regarding the problems of control and representation. All I’m trying to do here is start a discussion about extending the possibilities of the characters we play. As always I’m interested to hear what you have to say, so get typing.