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Defining a Gesture Ontology for Games

Games are increasingly making use of gestures as a way for players to interact in game worlds. While enabling players to perform a large number of actions in the game world, the use of gestures in games can also confuse players accustomed to conventional controls. Bob Mitchell‘s recent talk at UC Santa Cruz discussed developing games for 2020 and one of the points he made was that gestures are going to become prevalent in games due to the introduction of new interfaces. However, it is first necessary to build standard definitions of gestures in order for players to build expectations of how to interact with games.

A scene in Heavy Reain in which the player can choose from 3 gestures using the right analog stick and a single gesture with the left stick.

This post is motivated by my recent gameplay experience with Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain. The game makes use of a contextual control scheme, which enables the player to execute hundreds of types of actions over the duration of the game. However, the number of options available to the player at any given decision point is either binary or a few choices, as shown in the figure above.  In the early stages of the game, I had difficultly adjusting to the unique controls in Heavy Rain. After playing the game for a few hours, I felt more comfortable with the control setup. However, I did not feel that the controls were intuitive, because the game constantly violated my expectations of the gestures that would be presented in a scene. The main thing that caught my attention in Heavy Rain was opening doors, which occurs in several of the scenes in the game. In some cases, the gesture to open doors in an upwards motion, while in other scenes the gesture is a downward motion. I felt that the controls did not become easier as I played through the game, because I never knew which gesture would be presented for a particular action. Heavy Rain presents the player with a multitude of actions that can be performed and because of this openness, it is difficult to present the player with gestures that meet their expectations.

Electronic Art's Skate

Another game that makes extensive use of gestures is Skate. Skate provides a unique control scheme in which the player controls the trick being executed by performing gestures using the right analog stick. The interesting aspect of the control setup in Skate is that it resembles the physical motions required to execute skateboarding tricks in the real world. Gestures performed using the right analog stick are analogous to moving a skater’s feet on the skateboard. This convention presents the player with a large number of trick options that can be performed, as shown in the figure below, and is much more interesting than “Press X to kickflip”. Because Skate defines a fixed set of gestures, the player can build an expectation of the gestures in the game. Coming from a skateboarding background, I felt the gestures in Skate to be quite intuitive due to their similarity to real-world skateboarding gestures.

A Gesture Ontology for Actions in Skate

Gestures are becoming more common in games and in order for players to build expectations of what types of gestures can be performed in games, it is necessary to define new conventions for interaction. Skate applies gestures to a narrow domain and provides the player with an intuitive interface. Heavy Rain on the other hand, is much more open world and conventions have yet to be defined. In order to provide players with intuitive interfaces, game designers should standardize the gestures that can be performed in games.


About the author:  Ben Weber is a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz. Read more from this author


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3 Comments

  1. RIftstalker
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 12:59 AM | Permalink

    I think that with iPad/iPhone and the rise of multi-touch screens, you are going to see a whole new kind of gestures, using 1-4 fingers in a variety of motions.

    Right now, we’re working on Riftforge, a turn-based, tactical MMO for iPod/iPad that will support multi-touch gestures for selecting, moving and attacking.

  2. Posted June 4, 2010 at 9:19 AM | Permalink

    Conventions for touch based controls have not even been established for well-known game genres, such as platformers. This is an issue I ran into when porting Infinite Mario to Android.

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