Clutter, thy name is gaming peripherals

There are some hobbies that just invite clutter, the same way Britney Spears invites ridicule — and, in her case, unsolicited advice from every wannabe celebrity shrink in Hollywood. Think about all those scrapbookers, with their endless mountains of patterned paper, punchers, and stamps. Or the ones who collect Hummel figurines, cans of Foster’s Lager from 1968, or have first-edition Harry Potter sorting hats camped on every shelf and coffee table.

Gamers were supposed to be better than this. Somehow, we’ve always aspired to the sleek, tech-savvy vibe of the video and stereophile, with shiny equipment complementing neat DVD cases in tidy rows — a feng-shui library of digital-gaming goodness.

And then fourth quarter 2007 hit, and it’s all gone straight to hell.

Public Enemy Number One is Rock Band, the sublime music game from Harmonix. As a gaming experience, count me in with the guys over at Gamers with Jobs, who succinctly called it “a box of awesome.” Seriously, Rock Band’s seamless, four-person musical experience flat-out kicks ass. It has, in the time it took me to rap out a single drum solo in Nine Inch Nails’s “The Hand that Feeds,” made Guitar Hero completely superfluous, just like the iPod did to the Walkman, or the Spurs have done to the rest of the NBA.

But here’s the thing: Nobody mentions that the game’s hefty $170 price tag carries an additional, hidden cost — your living-room space. The plastic drum kit looks and functions like a real one, right down to the way it crouches — like an NFL linebacker — in front of your couch, daring you to dodge past it without denting your hip. Creating your four-person band and taking on a raucous virtual World Tour requires two — two! — wired plastic guitars, bringing my total arsenal of toy gaming guitars to a whopping four. Hey, one more and I can head out to the local Mexican restaurant with my posse to perform fake tableside serenades.

Yes, I recognize that if I were an actual musician instead of a pale, plastic-clutching imitation, the clutter would be even worse, since I’d have things like amplifiers and speakers to deal with as well. (Although I think we can all agree there are times when the Xbox 360’s fan approaches amplifier-like levels). Somehow, that argument strikes a sour note with my spouse, who just stubbed her toe for the sixth time on the drum set.

Meanwhile, over in the land of Nintendo, there’s the Wii Zapper, the latest plastic peripheral that purports to turn your Wii remote into a light gun, all the better to blast zombies in Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. The concept’s sorta cool, in a Ye Olde Crossbow kind of way … but it’s also essentially unnecessary, since all it does is make it possible to manage the Wiimote and nunchuk with a single hand. Well, almost. If you pick up a copy of Time Crisis 4 for the PS2, you can complement the Zapper with an actual light-gun controller. Draw them both together and scowl just so, and you might even look like John McClain in Live Free or Die Hard. Yippie-ki-yay, Dorkasaurus.

As all this extra gaming plastic eats up even more of my closet and floor space, and like the also-rans on Biggest Loser at a Burger King buffet, I can’t help feeling like we’ve taken a step backward. Wireless game controllers were finally transporting us beyond those dark days of the mid-2000s, when the power and controller cords from our Dreamcasts, PlayStations and Saturns turned every game room into a snake pit of collected dust and tangled wiring. Now, suddenly, my gaming space looks an awful lot like a child’s playroom, with color-coded controllers, drumsticks, and guitars standing in for scads of Legos, Polly Pockets, and Hannah Montana headsets.

It’s like post-Christmas morning every day of the week — and not in a good way.

A PITHY GUIDE TO RIDING THE WEB Or, “Things I’ve Bought That I Love.” (Why didn’t I think of that blog topic? Why, I could go on forever.) Actually it’s a bit more complex than that. Like the currently on-strike Mindy Kaling, aka Kelly Kapoor from The Office? Well this is her blog, chock-full of that Miss Piggy-ness that makes me think Mindy might be closer to her primetime character than I previously imagined.


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