Muscle Memory and the Wii

by Andy Polaine on February 8, 2007

What with all the cool things people are doing with Wiimotes I nearly bought a Wii yesterday, but wasn’t terribly convinced by the games. This post from Steven Johnson has probably convinced me otherwise.

Steven has written several of my favourite books concerning technology and culture – Interface Culture, Emergence, Everything Bad Is Good For You to name a few – and has a great grasp of the impact of new technological paradigms. He describes that “aha!” moment of playing Wii Tennis:

Since the days of Pong, games have been simplifying the intricacies of movement into unified codes of button pressing and joystick manipulation. What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports — and particularly Tennis — is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body’s motion will lead to different results onscreen.

What’s quite interesting here is that he goes onto describe how he can’t work out how some of the shots he and his wife make actually work. That is, it’s not just “Press B, A, A, Left”, but something more subtle in terms of combinations of body movements.

In his talk at Transmediale 07 David Rokeby described a process in which he ended up ‘learning the language’ of his Very Nervous System. He couldn’t understand, at first, why it didn’t seem to be working for other interactors. Having checked all the sensors and connections he realised that over a period of weeks when he had been working in isolation on the piece his own gestures (which trigger the sounds) had morphed into things that he knew the algorithms could understand.

This kind of muscle memory is crucial in many sports and the playing of instruments as it short-circuits a lot of the cognitive overhead – the physical training makes you faster than your conscious mind, as it were. So now we’ve got that going on with the Wii. I’m sure it is there too with older-style controllers, but it was always possible to slow that down in practice modes – “A, A, Left, Jump”, etc. – but with the Wii the movement has to be fluid and in real-time. I wonder if we’ll see people starting to adapt to the Wii’s algorithms too?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Johnny February 9, 2007 at 2:49 am

To be honest, the Wii is shite. And that’s coming from a Nintendo Fanboy. I’d wait a few more months when the killer titles emerge.

Or, you can just buy a Wiimote and tinker with that for the time being. ;)

2 Andy Polaine February 9, 2007 at 1:04 pm

That’s a shame. Maybe I’ll just tinker with a Wiimote then. But then I’m a bit more keen to mess around with an Arduino set-up at the moment.

3 KyleSka February 9, 2007 at 7:00 pm

I think the wii is a brilliant system. In playing WiiSports it takes just a few minutes for newcomers to get the hang of the basic movements. But with experience, you learn more about how the system responds to the may you move. It is incredibly responsive, which makes winning a high level tennis match or getting a 260 in bowling a lot more rewarding since it requires a certain level of physical skill.

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