Trigger Warning

I’m scared of the new Xbox, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.

It’s not so much the privacy stuff for me. Yeah, the Xbox One’s microphone is technically “always listening,” whether off or on, to everything going on around it. And it’s hard not to feel a pang of terror at the idea of a video game system always recording you – even only temporarily. Just like everything, though, we’ll get over that.

It’s not Microsoft reassuring me that my TV and I are “gonna have a relationship.” It’s not Don Mattrick’s voice triggering the Kinects of Xbox users streaming Tuesday’s event, creating a recursive loop wherein Xboxes all over the countries disabled themselves in a terrifying portent of things to come. It’s not the startlingly in-depth biometrics that the new Kinect picks up on, including your heart rate, your muscle tension, and way, way too much more. It’s not the fact that the Kinect – which, remember, is always on, always watching – can see you in pitch-black darkness with unbelievable clarity, or the fact that it will probably count the number of warm bodies in your room to make sure you’re not watching the movie you just purchased with “too many” people. It’s none of those things.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, all that shit’s way creepy – but it’s funny-creepy, not scary-creepy. Maybe it’s because I already live my life pretty publicly or because I know Microsoft doesn’t give a shit what I’m doing in my dingy apartment any more than it does any of its other trillions of inevitable customers. Or maybe because it’s 2013 and privacy is a myth and will be 100 percent dead before most of our kids are born. Whatever the case, that’s not the stuff that’s haunting me from the #XboxReveal event.

I’m scared of the new triggers, man.

Hear me out. The new Xbox One controller is, in almost every way that matters, identical to the Xbox 360 pad we pretty much all love. There’s only one major new feature that stands out – to me, at least – and that’s the triggers’ “dynamic impulse” feature. This little guy “allows creators to program feedback directly into the triggers,” according to the press conference. A fact sheet on Microsoft’s press site says they “offer precise haptic fingertip feedback,” which is a sentence that means almost nothing outside of “feedback,” but there you go.

If they were just rumbling triggers, that would be one thing. But Microsoft says there’s more to them than that.

While trying out the new controller in Redmond, my Revision3 coworker Adam Sessler got to try out a few impulse trigger demos – revving a car’s engine, firing a laser pistol, feeling a human heartbeat, among a handful of others – which inspired him to ask the Microsoft rep point-blank if the triggers are capable of providing not just subtle vibration but actual resistance (think force feedback in a racing wheel). The response he got: “It’s possible.” As in, pulling the trigger for a gun could actually resemble…pulling the trigger of a gun.

I’m not sure we’re ready for guns in games to feel like guns, even a little bit. Here’s why.

First, the obvious thing: there’s a high possibility that games – some games – are gonna look pretty damn real on the Xbox One. Technologically speaking, the One (man, it’s gonna take a minute to get used to saying that) is a leap almost a decade into the future for consoles. We’re talking about almost eight years on top of the Xbox 360, a box that today is handily running games like Max Payne 3 and Hitman: Absolution – games that are totally fucking gross in the violence department (and even more gross when they break, but I digress). That means that, more than ever before, people will look more like people, the blood will look more like blood, et cetera. This is the easy shit, though, right? We’re gonna be shooting real-looking dudes. That’s whatever.

As we’ve watched games get more and more lifelike over the past couple of decades, we’ve always been able to defend video game violence by throwing the “pulling a trigger on a controller is nothing like pulling a trigger on a gun, dummy” tarp over the whole mess. And I guess what I’m wondering is: what happens when that’s not true anymore? I think of the small number of times that pulling a gun trigger in a game actually meant something to me – the bit with Duck in the forest in The Walking Dead, that one scene with Mordin in Mass Effect 3, a couple of key moments in Spec Ops – and I wonder how differently it would’ve felt if the trigger I squeezed had the click and give of an actual gun instead of just a springy, toyish piece of plastic. It freaks me out a little bit, to be honest with you.

I don’t think it’s dangerous or whatever. It’s still a video game controller shaped like a video game controller. But between this, the Oculus Rift and that dumb-looking treadmill thing, we’ve seen the abstraction we so often point to as making video game violence okay eroding all around us, even just these past few months. And it’s not a thing that’s going to stop.

This makes me uncomfortable, which is a word I almost never use. I don’t think I want shooting dudes in Far Cry 3 to feel like shooting dudes in real life. I treasure the abstraction. It’s a game! I kind of need it to feel disconnected and a little silly. Immersion or whatever is all well and good until we’re strapped into virtual reality headsets just totally stabbing the shit out of a fake dude using a fake knife with haptic feedback that lets us feel every stab. And that shit comes out, like, TOMORROW, basically. Woof.

Look. Things are about to get weird. The defense of hyperviolent games as disconnected fantasy in abstracto might not survive the rest of this decade. Calling our favorite games “murder simulators” ironically is still a cute bit of sarcasm now, but I don’t see that lasting. It feels like we’re maybe on the verge of some potentially gross, potentially indefensible stuff – not just these triggers, obviously, but all of it – this “immersion” tech in conjunction with a world of triple-A games all seemingly embroiled against one another in an interminable torture-porn-grossness contest. All I’m saying is: lines will be crossed. And when the impending shitstorm from the rest of the world catches up on this stuff, I hope we’ll all stop and think about how cool we are with this stuff before hopping to its defense. Deal?

———

Follow Nick Robinson on Twitter @babylonian.

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Categories:
Commentary, Gaming, Nick Robinson
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  • MattBodega

    Are you telling me you don't love it every time the chamber recoils on a Time Crisis controller? Go back to Russia, comrade! Me n' Namco are gonna stay here, in AMERICA, where we wanna feel it.

  • Erick

    That's a really stupid thing to be afraid of. Are you 12?

  • http://twitter.com/taintedwisp @taintedwisp

    Okay first, you should be afraid of the data that microshit is collecting, Its going to know when your hungry, when you gotta piss, etc. and its going to have everything you say, so it could be used in a court case against you in the future.

    • Guest

      Why in God's name does this have 11 down-votes?

  • http://twitter.com/taintedwisp @taintedwisp

    Also, you the points you bring up are legitimate though, I was having a conversation with my older brother about GTA V the other day, and we both agreed that we hope its graphics are barely improved on the people, and that they focus more on environments, so it doesn't get too realistic.

    • http://twitter.com/JamTF @JamTF

      Okay, here's a bit of detective work for you. If a game comes out on a new console but the older console as well(PS4 and PS3 or 360 and Xbone). Then the game is most likely made with the weaker console in mind.
      [Just imagine if third party games actually went to Wii U for next gen, we'd get Wii U quality games on machines with 4 times the RAM.]

      Yes they can up the rendering and such for a more powerful console like they do sometimes[when they care] for ports to PC[Gaming PC's still out power Next Gen BTW, as they're what you want not what you get.].

      SO they're just as big or beautiful as a PS3 GTA like GTA 4. With maybe slightly but barely unnoticeable graphic fidelity increase for the Xbone and PS4.

  • Jermie

    This is the dumbest fuckin thing I've ever read. You're joking, right? This is some onion news bullshit… Right?

  • http://twitter.com/CURTISJAMESSARG @CURTISJAMESSARG

    maybe just maybe this might mean games will get less violent overall if there's a significant reaction to this? Still, can't wait to play forza 5 with these rumbly triggers.

  • MrMeowgi

    This is the dumbest thing I've ever read. Are you 12 years old? How this fool found a job as a writer I haven't a clue.

  • http://megascorcher.com wildmatt

    Stupidest thing to be afraid of ever! You realize it's not actually the trigger that kick's back on a gun right? What happens with the controller when you pull the trigger, does the entire thing kick back? I doubt it, dumb article, written only for attention and it god damn worked…

  • Vistor

    Allow me to provide you an image, circa 1985. http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/0/42

  • Smith

    The stupidity of this opinion piece is astounding.

  • http://twitter.com/AllenRicketts @AllenRicketts

    This post is so fucking stupid.

  • Whatsgoodtho

    I find it kinda sad how everyone in this comment section is resorting to ad-hominem insults because they fear that politicians could actually have a case against violent video games provided that the author is right.

    Truthfully, it is kind of scary that when I shoot a gun in a game it could possibly feel exactly like shooting a gun would in real life and I might actually start to feel empathetic for murdering 0's and 1's on a screen. Do I care personally, nah I dont give a shit thats gonna be fuckin sick, the triggers rumble and give resistence??? Fucking crazyy…… but I do understand that in the hands of someone who might be a little less mentally stable than me or a child, this could lead to some real consequences. Whether you want to accept that reality or not is on you, its simply being outlined to you.

    Am I or the author suggesting that the fault should fall on videogames for a second? No. We're just outlining a scary situation that will soon become a reality. Don't shoot the messenger, hes just saying it how it is.

    • Markus Kross

      Then the problem with the reality you outlined, moron, is NOT "realistic" triggers, its someone who is mentally unstable!!

      • Whatsgoodtho

        Really? Considering that the realistic triggers are the only factor required to tip these mentally unstable people off the edge, that doesn't make it a problem?

        Oh ok. Makes sense bro.

        lmfao, but Im supposed to be the moron.

  • concerned

    I believe the gap between resistance to controller trigger pulls and vibration is still incredibly far from feeling like a 'real' gun. Most arcades will have realistic looking weapons that vibrate. For many of the people who are committing the crimes that video games have taken heat for, I doubt the graphical quality or tactile sensation had anything to do with their actions. There is an inherent disconnect from reality in people capable of these crimes that I really doubt video game immersion could ever expose more so than any other media or even the trial of daily life.

    An interesting example would be things like paintball/airsoft, laser tag or even war reenactment. These activities probably provide far more realism that video games do, but they receive much less attention because the fundamental activity differs from killing another person. They mimic it, but there exists a defined boundary between play and real violence, as there is in video games.

  • tryreading

    If half of you would have bothered to read the whole article or even the last three paragraphs instead of spewing nonsense and attacking the writer you might have actually realized what he is actually trying to communicate.

    Of course that would imply that you had a colective atention span greater than that of a hyperactive monkey so I guess I´m just asking to much of people. Go back to typing out elaborate insults on youtube videos and leave the articles for people who actually plan on reading, sharing and discussing ideas.

  • CoolTechButNoJoke

    Interesting read, and I definitely see Robinson's point. Within the next 10 years, we're going to further blur the line between reality and super immersive virtual worlds, and not everyone is going to handle it with grace.

    Around five or six years ago I attended a Nanotech seminar at UNC Chapel Hill where they took us into their labs and showed us some of their giant microscopes. These microscopes were easily controlled by a short handle (around the size of a Wii controller) attached to a large rod, and it allowed for three dimensional motion. It also allowed the user to "poke around" on the surface of whatever he was looking at through the microscope, and gave strong tactile feedback.

    A couple years later I realized that this same technology could be brought to games, and I thought about how unsettling it would be to actually have to push… really push… FORCE a knife into a virtual enemy. Maybe you're doing this while looking into his ever-more-realistic face and he's begging for their life.

    Sound awesome? Great, it's cool you think so, but be aware that this kind of experience will further desensitize plenty of mentally ill people.

    • Markus Kross

      MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE HAVE NO BUSINESS PLAYING VIDEO GAMES! SHOULD THEY BAN COMMERCIALS FOR THE FUCKING MIRACLE BLADES BECAUSE MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE MAY USE THEM TO CUT SOMEONE TO BITS? IDIOT.

  • BRENT

    um,seriously,your afraid of a controller with a trigger that could resemble a 5 lb pull of a glock trigger ??? man up and go shoot a real gun sissy,you may actually prefer a gun range to shooting a fictional character on a tv !!!

  • joeyt045

    I don't know why everyone is calling this stupid. I understand the point here. Imagine when the next major shooting occurs (which will happen) and the Xbox One is out. Some nutjob politician or advocate for some anti-violence/gun group is made aware of this technology. Then they find out the shooter was playing the latest FPS, with real trigger technology (I'm trademarking this). They will immediately place the blame on a video game. Saying shit like games trained them to kill, or they learned how to squeeze off as many rounds as possible because the "video game taught them through realistic feedback from their Xbox controller". Mark my words, it will happen. And that is scary when something I like to do and many other people enjoy comes under attack by ill informed morons.

  • Markster

    Being a firearms instructor and a gamer I am actually looking forward to oculus rift and other next gen tech for potential training aids. So to a degree I see what he is saying.
    The haptic triggers alone won't affect things so much but combine that with VR headsets (matter of time for xbox one I think) and perhaps gun like controller and cutting edge realistic graphics…now add to that some morally dubious content and we will have a new battle inour hands about stopping to teach our kid to kill.
    Like it or not, the MIL/LEO side wants to use things like that as training aids.
    W all know that crazy people are crazy to begin with and be it a realistic game or bible or Judas Priest record he will do crazy things. But try explaining that to folks who want some easy thing to blame for yhe actions of a deranged mind.
    So yeah, the writer has a point.

  • wp7guy

    This article is stupid! It's a freaking controller for God's sake. And kudos to the XB1, any innovation that ups immersion in video games gets my vote.

  • lol

    Hyper realistic war games where you murder people by the thousands? NO PROBLEM. A gun trigger? CANT HAVE THAT

    • Whatsgoodtho

      you're being facile

  • http://twitter.com/antiface @antiface

    Go fire a real weapon. Then go back to playing video games. One will result in actual physical damage. The other in ones and zeroes.

    Please, get a grip.

    • Whatsgoodtho

      Wow seriously? It doesn't matter whether its exactly the same or not, you're missing the point completely. If it feels real enough to somebody whose mentally unstable it doesn't matter, they'll take what seems to be the logical approach in their mind and upgrade to a real gun. When they shoot that gun in real life in another columbine like incident it will be too late before they realize that "hmm, yeah shooting a real gun actually does hurt a little more".

      Maybe you should have actually thought out your comment before you submitted it? Wow, you really are a dumbass.

  • http://twitter.com/Katix88 @Katix88

    Just stopped in to call you an idiot, you have significantly lowered the bar of gaming journalism, you can atleast take solace in knowing you are not as bad as Kotaku, but god damn you are trying

  • Steve

    I've read a lot of defense for gun violence in video games. Not once – ever – has that defense been "the trigger button doesn't feel like a real gun's trigger." Are you making up an argument so that your article works, then just assuming we'll all think that is the major defense against violent video games?

  • http://johnig.tumblr.com John IG

    Murder simulators are gross. With or without haptic feedback in the triggers.

    That's not to say there isn't any value in video games that are murder simulators, just they are pretty gross.

  • http://twitter.com/ch3burashka @ch3burashka

    I gotta say, this is ridiculous – first, books were too real, then talkies were too real, then comics were too demonic, then SNES games looked too real, then Night Trap was too sexy, and now the triggers are "too real". Honestly, how "fake" are today's 360's triggers? Just because there's no force feedback or minute vibrations doesn't immediately discount them as gun trigger analogs. This sounds like an article written by a liberal 50-year-old dad, who tries to seem hip but is actually deathly afraid of the demonic energies manifesting on the peripheries of society. This is frankly embarrassing, which sounds mean, but Jesus Christ, what the hell are you talking about.

    • http://twitter.com/ch3burashka @ch3burashka

      The word "abstraction" implies, well, abstraction. How is "pulling a plastic trigger with your index finger" in any way an abstraction for "pulling a metal trigger with your index finger"? If you've abstracted the 360 controller in your mind, I'm sure you'll find a way to do so with the Xbone as well.

      Having read the comments, I'll admit I read half and went down to comment. Now I've read the entire article. I still maintain my position that this is ridiculous. I won't say you're a terrible writer as some have (that's not evident in the actual writing) but it definitely is immature in theme.

  • Weresmurf

    Idiotic article. There was rumble in the controller before when you pulled the trigger in FPS's, it's just been relocated to a different area. There is no 'kick' in controller.

  • GunnerRecall

    I'm glad you've given in to alarmism in order to garner hits. I'm ashamed of having read this.

  • Paul

    You are a dangerous sort, Nick. You are just as bad as the anti-videogame lobby and the anti-gun lobby. Spending your time being scared of things you don't understand. All I got from this article is that you are scared of guns and videogames that simulate guns. I bet you think if you pick up a gun you will start going around shooting people because the guns and videogames made you do it. A person always has a choice. You have to make the choice if you want to go out and shoot someone, a game can't make that choice for you no matter how realistic it is. So stop projecting your fears on inanimate objects and accept the fact that your own fears of what simulation violence might "force" you or others to do are as idiotic as this article you wrote.

  • http://twitter.com/Catechist326 @Catechist326

    Very cogent points. You are brave. Well written.

  • http://twitter.com/euphoriafish @euphoriafish

    First, wow. I forgot how scary the One is and about all the scary stuff Microsoft has been planning with the Kinect. I don't want one, or any machine that collects data on my whereabouts and puts it on the network without giving me the option to turn that collection and sharing off.

  • Trombley

    Jack Thompson go home. You're drunk.

  • Andrew

    A lot of negative feedback here, but I value this perspective. Thanks.