If there’s a piece of video game hardware that ever really impressed me, outside of the return and rapid advancement of virtual reality, it has to be Kinect. Microsoft’s natural movement input camera turned your body into a controller for the Xbox 360, and it worked surprisingly well in translating a person’s movements to a character on a TV screen. Playing games like bowling with Kinect, picking up an imaginary ball and flinging it down an imaginary lane only to see all that kinetic energy made “real” in a video game, felt like a form of magic.
As Kinect started to get hacked to serve as the eyes for robots or to help improve the accuracy of surgeons, I thought for sure we’d see the device become an important part of not just the gaming landscape but of innovations in technology in general. When Microsoft announced the Xbox One in 2013, Kinect was an essential part of the design. Microsoft was envisioning a future where you were constantly talking to and waving your hands at your TV to control shows, make Skype calls, and play video games–and while I had a whole lot of problems with the console at the time, it still seemed like the sort of Blade Runner/Back to the Future/Minority Report technology that marked many visions of the future.
Seven years later, the future is here. With the Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft has dialed back on just about all of the ideas the console-maker once seemed to think would compose the future of gaming. But it’s not only Microsoft–the same is true of Sony and its PlayStation 5. The next generation is here, and if I’m being honest, I’m finding it kind of boring. The games I’ll be playing this holiday season seem pretty similar to the games I’ve been playing for the better part of a decade.