Mirror’s Edge

Mirror’s Edge, from EA, is a first person shooter with a physics and movement engine modeled after parkour.  Parkour is the snazzy thing where people run and jump throughout a city environment.  It was seen, most notably in the opening of Casino Royale and for geeks like me in the French film B2.

The game will apparently make you vomit, or at least pretty queasy.

Only 15 minutes into the game, my mouth began overproducing saliva, and I had to pause the action for a few seconds to avoid carsickness. I would feel like a total lamer, but apparently even the Penny Arcade guys wrestled with nausea.

Still, it made me wonder: What makes Mirror’s Edge so different? Sure, the action is swoopy and vertiginous, just as it is in many other games. But I’ve played plenty of first-person shooters that required me to navigate ridiculous, zero-G boss lairs that were suspended over improbable heights, and none of those ever made me feel nauseated.

Why does this game get its hooks into my brain so effectively? Why does it feel so much more visceral?

Apparently it has something to do with proprioception, which is the scientific term for knowing where your body parts are without looking at them.  It’s how you walk up stairs without looking down, how you throw a baseball over your shoulder or behind your back and catch it with the other hand.

So why does Mirror’s Edge make you sick and how is it different from other first-person video games?

Mirror’s Edge, in contrast, does something very subtle, but very radical. It lets you see other parts of your body in motion.

When you run, you see your hands pumping up and down in front of you. When you jump, your feet briefly jut up into eyeshot — precisely as they do when you’re vaulting over a hurdle in real life. And when you tuck down into a somersault, you’re looking at your thighs as the world spins around you.

What’s more, the Mirror’s Edge world feels tactile and graspable. Because the game is designed around the concept of parkour, or moving through obstacles, most times when you see something that looks like you could jump on it, you can. The gameplay requires it.

The upshot is that these small, subtle visual cues have one big and potent side effect: They trigger your sense of proprioception. It’s why you feel so much more “inside” the avatar here than in any other first-person game. And it explains, I think, why Mirror’s Edge is so curiously likely to produce motion sickness. The game is not merely graphically realistic; it’s neurologically realistic.

Want to play out of curiousity more than anything else.  [via Clusterflock]

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