I’m not a fan of wireless controllers. Oh, I agree that they are convenient. There is no risk of living room traffic tripping over the cord and either disconnecting the controller or yanking the console itself off the stand. Want to play a game from the bathroom using a series of angled mirrors to view the TV set down the hall? Go nuts.
We can probably agree that the first controller to get wireless “right” was the GameCube’s WaveBird. I remember picking one up on a whim at Walmart and loving it instantly. It was so reliable! Sure, it felt a bit lifeless with force feedback removed, but the battery life was great!
Those tiny concessions were only the start of my misgivings.
First, batteries are an expense we could have done without. You can spring for a set of rechargeables, raising the total cost of a controller that is already pricier than its wired counterpart. Then there’s the fear that the controller will die in the middle of a game and there won’t be any spare batteries in reach.
The PS3 controller is equipped with an on-board, irreplaceable battery that is charged by running an included cable from it directly to the console. Might as well just leave the thing plugged in and save yourself the trouble of checking juice levels on a regular basis. We never had to worry about old controllers running out of power.
Second, there’s the latency issue. Doesn’t happen often, but for a brief second the controller simply won’t respond to your input. Nothing is more unnerving than a noticeable delay in your commands and the on-screen action. There’s a reason why competitive gamers stick to wired controllers.
Finally, you can’t simply bring an extra controller over to someone’s house for some local co-op anymore. Your controller has already been assigned to your home machine, so you’re gonna have to sync it up to your buddy’s console. There’s some button sequence listed in the manual that you’ve most likely forgotten. It would probably be more convenient yet more expensive just to buy a whole controller set.
To be fair, these are all minor annoyances for most people. For me, it’s enough to make me swear off wireless controllers – when possible. Yeah, the 360 and PS3 have wired alternatives, but the Wii does not. I’m kinda stuck there.
Wireless controllers are just one part of a greater “wireless movement”. The true reasons for my disappointment are less practical and more abstract. I don’t know how well I can explain myself, but here it goes.
Gaming to me is a very personal, very connected experience because of these physical tethers. Everything was very real, very tangible. Now our lexicon is filled with terms such as “wireless”, “cloud computing”, and “digital distribution”. These words feel very cold and impersonal, and represent concepts that have no definite form.
Remember the days when you would huddle right up close to the television, soaking in swathes of colors at a distance your mother disapproved of? Instead of lounging on the sofa, you were right there with your nose up against the glass. Two-player games were as much a game of physical shenanigans as you yanked your friend’s controller from the socket, stealing his thunder as he swore at you and scrambled to reconnect the cord.
Consider the evolution of software storage media. First there were cartridges, strong and sturdy, able to withstand most pre-teen playroom punishment. Then came CDs and DVDs. Slightly more fragile but nevertheless evidence of your gaming passion. Now is the dawn of the digital download and the promise that some day all our money will go towards bits and bytes on a data stream.
Multiplayer gaming barrels towards an all-online model as fewer and fewer titles allow for local play. It’s far easier to pair up with strangers than to set up times when friends are available. We join online communities at the expense of fostering local ones.
When cell phones arrived, everyone loaded their friends’ numbers to memory. Then we loaded up hundreds of other “contacts”, from the briefest of acquaintances to people we promised to call in the near future but never do. These days, no one actually remembers phone numbers. Why should they? Keeping someone’s number once held special significance. Now it’s just stored info.
That’s how I see gaming. It’s just entertainment we “consume” now. We are so detached from it that we play in a manner similar to channel surfing, having little regard for what’s on. It’s just something you do. You may not think that it should make much of a difference, but you’d be surprised how much a little physicality can go in strengthening emotional ties. It’s certainly true outside of the scope of gaming.
One by one, these wires are being severed in favor of added convenience. Perhaps I’m just a crotchety old man in his mid-twenties with fond memories of years gone by. Or maybe I’m more concerned with the flip side of “progress” than the progress itself. Either way, you can’t deny that connections are stronger when you can physically see them.
What have I done about it? For starters, I bought those white GameCube controllers from Japan around the time Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out. The cord is twice as long as the standard controller! That’s a sensible solution to a couple of problems related to wired gamepads, right? There’s also no way you’ll see me let go of my physical game collection and replace them with licenses to play electronic vapor that I’ll never actually own.
But that’s me trying to stay wired in a wireless world. Does that seem strange to you?