Giles Coren: Adventures in tech - Kinect

Giles has learnt much about tech this year, but he still can't beat his wife at ping pong on the Kinect. Read on to find out what the man who hates tech thinks of Microsoft's latest toy

It’s funny: before I started writing this column I was terrified of technology. At 41, and having taken no real interest in anything electronic since a clock-radio I got for my tenth birthday, I just reckoned the world had passed me by, and that I could never catch up.

But T3 has changed all that for me. I have a much better understanding of what is out there, and what people are doing. I know that an iPhone4 is a not-very-good telephone on which you can watch very short snatches of porn. I know that a FlipMino is a video camera the size of a fag packet designed to remind you, constantly, that your life is not worth filming. I know that 3D television will one day keep toddlers fascinated for as many as seven or eight whole minutes. And I know that by not owning an iPad I am missing out only on the chance to tweet people while watching 3D television images of myself filming myself while tweeting.

And today I have sent back my Xbox Kinect almost unplayed-with. Although I was sorry to see it go, because I rather enjoyed setting it up.

It was all so easy. I hadn’t played a video game since Merlin (go on, you young mackerel, Google it) and assumed it would be impossible to set up, get going, work out, let alone play with. I even asked T3 to send someone round to hold my hand. But they suggested a bloke, so I decided to go it alone.

Piece of piss. My favourite part was where the instructions said it was important to place the horizontal scanner-receiver-sensor type thing “IN THE EXACT CENTRE OF YOUR TELEVISION SCREEN”, as if in the corrupted ADHD world of the modern teenager, putting something physically in the middle of something else were really, really difficult.
And then I played some crap games of ping pong that didn’t provide nearly as much verisimilitude or fun as the Binatone “Pong” console my great-aunt bought me for our black and white television back in 1977, for the then-unimaginable sum of £30.

It was pretty impressive that the machine recognised the movements of my wife and me without us holding a wand or anything, I’ll grant you. Very Minority Report. And clearly a version of something that will one day rule the world. And it was weird and spooky to have highlights suddenly played back – unasked – of me and my wife smashing invisibly round the telly room (they never told us we were being filmed!). But it wasn’t alive to the subtleties. It couldn’t recognise my various complex spin shots, which meant that my wife, with her solid, plodding, backhand block game, totally shat on me. Which would never happen in real life. You understand? Never!

Another thing: Quite often, in fast rallies, my wife and I smashed each others hands against each other and howled in pain. But to be further apart, one had to be further away from the screen than we had room for. And that’s in my quite massive Victorian house. And yet video games were invented as a pastime for people who live in council flats, which are usually pretty small – so that’s messed up.

So keep your silly games, kids. I don’t need ‘em, and I’m no longer scared of ‘em. And if you want a tip from an old man on how to beat the thing at boxing – which I managed to do almost immediately at its so-called ‘champion’ level – try kicking the avatar boxer as well as punching him. He doesn’t seem to be programmed to object to, or even recognise, kicking. And he just can’t work out for the life of him where this other set of fists is coming from.

Published in T3 (January 2010 issue)

Previously on Giles Coren: Adventures in tech:

- Giles Coren on the iPhone 4

- Giles Coren on 3D TV

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