Gaming is still relatively new in both fields of technology and communication. Today, we have come to the eight generation of game consoles. The first of these to appear was Nintendo's release of the Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming device in 2011, which as the name suggests brought 3D capabilities to Nintendo's previously successful Nintendo DS device. This was followed by so far unsuccessful launch of the Nintendo Wii U in 2012, and a year later Sony and Microsoft released the PS4 and Xbox One systems respectively. How successful Sony and Microsoft's new consoles will be is still yet to be determined, as the consoles have only been out for a little over five months at this point.
So what's new with these new consoles, and how have they been able to differentiate themselves from their predecessors? There are many ways in which they are different, but one of the best ways to discuss these differences is to look at their technological affordances. As defined in class, an affordance in reference to technology is basically a capability. To help us understand technological affordances in video games, Dr. Downs introduced us to Sundar's MAIN model. The MAIN model looks at four different aspects of affordances: modality, agency, interactivity, and navigability.
To discuss these terms, I will refer to my experience and general knowledge of eight generation consoles. So far, the only eight generation console I own is Sony's Playstation 4. I bought the console on the day of the release, so I've had a good five months to warm up to the machine. Other than that, I have logged a very small amount of time on the Nintendo 3DS thanks to my roommate, but I have little experience regarding the Xbox One of Nintendo Wii U; so most of my experience will be coming from the Playstation 4 and 3DS.
The first affordance of the MAIN model is modality. In it's most basic form, modality can be thought of as how a medium (consoles in this case) appeals to the users senses. As you might guess, most consoles try to use a variety of modalities. According to Sundar, multimodality allows for greater immersion (Sundar, 2008), which is a large goal of consoles today. The multimodality of eight generation consoles manifest in a number of ways, with the most basic being audiovisual capabilities. In the new consoles, the audiovisual capabilities have been enhanced slightly; we have better graphics and games are increasingly supporting surround sound features. Many games, especially those for the 3DS, are also supporting 3D visuals, which help further immerse us in the game world. Although the modality of touch has been implemented since the 90's in the form of controller vibration, Playstation's Dual Shock 4 controller also has a new touch pad in the center, which allows touch controls in a variety of ways. Another big change coming to new generations is the idea of virtual reality hardware, which allows a level of motion control as well as presenting the user with an interesting new twist on the visual modality which will strengthen immersion even more
The next affordance of the MAIN model is a little harder to understand, and that is agency. Agency, when referring to video games, is what the user perceives as the source of information and whether or not they find it credible. Like modality, this can manifest in a number of ways. A user can perceive themselves as a source of information, or they can perceive the game developers as a source. In the video game world, we may also view different in-game characters and other players as sources of information, so defining agency in terms of video games is a little more difficult than other mediums. It's also hard to note any change in agency with the new generation of consoles; there's really not a change of agency that can take place as far as I know.
The third and arguably most significant affordance for video games in the MAIN model is interactivity. As the name suggests, interactivity is how much the user can interact with the medium, or in this case the game environment. Interactivity has high value in the video game industry, and is often what differentiates it from other audiovisual mediums such as television. Interactivity in video games basically comes from being able to interact with the game environment through the use of the controller, and also the level of which a user's avatar can interact with the game environment inside the game. With virtual reality headsets, we are presented with a new level of interactivity because we can translate our head movements into the game, allowing our avatar to look where we're looking and further increases interactivity. We also have more motion tracking hardware, so the rest of our bodies can be translated into the game environment as well. What I feel will improve the most with the new generation is interactivity between the avatar and the game environment, because higher processing power will allow for more levels of interactivity; such as destructive environments, AI of the bots, and being able to manipulate random objects in the game.
Finally, the last affordance in the MAIN model is navigability. Like agency, I feel like navigability really doesn't have a whole lot of room for change in the new generation. Again, as the name suggests, navigability is how we are able to understand our orientation in the game environment. With consoles, this can range from navigability of the systems user interface (UI) to being able to know where you are and where to go in a specific game's environment. The UI is probably where we see a lot of change in the new generations, as most consoles are always trying to make navigability easier. The PS4's UI, for instance, is very simple and easy to navigate through the menu to find games to play or apps to launch. In game navigability usually comes in the form of onscreen maps, which is the part that hasn't really changed in this generation except for one very interesting exception. Some games, one being Assassins Creed 4, allow the player to use a companion app on a smart phone or tablet, so that the player can have a full map on a different screen than the one they are playing on. This new change seems to be growing in popularity, and I foresee that more and more developers will take advantage of this capability.
So by looking at the MAIN model, we can see how the new consoles already have many of the technological affordances made popular by previous systems, and by improving the processing power and games in general we are already seeing an increase in perceived affordances. As time goes by, it will be interesting to see how the technological affordances of these new systems are pushed by game developers to see just how capable these new systems are compared to the seventh generations.
Sundar, S. (2008). The main model: a heuristic approach to understanding technology effects on credibility. Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility, 73-100.