The Wiimote and transitional space

Interactive Design, Wii

Blue Wiimote

Wired recently featured a piece about new work being done using the Wiimote as an interface for real-world training simulators running in Second Life.  Surgery, hazardous chemical handling, nuclear plant operations—all are fair game for WorldWired, a consultancy run by David E. Stone, who calls the Wiimote “one of the most significant technology breakthroughs in the history of computer science.”

Well, obviously I think the Wiimote’s pretty nifty too, but it’s only partly for the reasons given by MIT professor Eric Klopfer in the article: “People know intuitively what to do with it when they pick it up because we use it like devices we are familiar with—bats, rackets, wands, etc.”

So much Wiimote boosterism is about where the remote takes you—the mental models it so seamlessly helps you to adopt.  All true, but I would argue that of equal significance is what the remote helps you leave behind.  Imagine that the Wiimote comes into widespread usage as an alternative PC input device.  Not something you use every day, but something you keep next to your work machine, since you can use it as a PowerPoint or iTunes remote, as well as for those all-too-rare moments when you stumble across a Flash game, online comic or art piece that shows you the delightful message: “If you have a Wiimote, pick it up now.”

Instantly, you’ve left behind the world of work and its input devices, and you’re prepared to experience something unusual—the more unexpected, the better.  Even if the piece doesn’t make use of the remote’s motion sensitivity at all, the device itself has still managed to carve out headspace where software art and entertainment no longer have to compete with every other application to remap the meanings of your mouse and keyboard.  We’ve got transitional space now; we’ve got a lobby to ease people out of the workaday and into alternate realms.

Calling it a technological breakthrough just doesn’t do it justice, does it?


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