The world of computer gaming is a wonderfully varied and diverse one. From the sublime to the turgid, the inspired to the banal and every point in between, gaming has produced many things of note. For every ground-breaking innovation or magical moment there has been a truly awful idea or cynical exploitation. That’s one of the things that make the industry so captivating. Greatness can only truly be experienced and appreciated in context with comparative mundanities and lesser works.
Being a technology-based industry, gaming has naturally seen its fair share of hardware innovations. The most obvious of these being the consoles themselves, rising from humble computer-chips-in-a-box of yesteryear to today’s technological wonder-boxes. Things have progressed from the primitive to the futuristic, before our very eyes no less, and along with the consoles themselves, the peripherals have progressed alongside. From the sharp-edged brick of the NES controller to the modern ergonomic joypads, the evolution of gaming can be tracked visually.
The thing is, like any evolutionary process of industry there must be…anomalies, things where something goes a bit… odd. Someone has an idea and gets enthusiastic about it. They get others on board and money is spent and, before you know it, that idea is there, on the shelves, being sold to a puzzled public. For every great white shark or lion, there is the odd duck-billed platypus and the same is true of gaming.
Welcome, then, today’s platypus specimen; the Powerglove. This glorious piece of lunacy hit the industry in 1989 as an alternate controller for Nintendo’s NES system. While not directly developed by Nintendo, it was an officially licenced peripheral and had the company’s backing. It also had some serious publicity behind it, even being featured in a Hollywood movie, The Wizard.
And you can see why! Just look at it. Yes, its bloody ridiculous. Yes it looks like someone mixed a NES controller with a calculator and glued it to a garden glove. But it’s just so damn cool! Go on, admit it, you want to wear it right now! It’d feel good wouldn’t it? You’d be a gaming god with that in your possession right?
Wellllllll…. That was the problem. While the marketing promised fingertip and hand position triangulation censoring and a new gaming method, what excited new owners actually received was extremely imprecise detection and a hideously awkward controller position… and sore shoulders… very sore shoulders. You try holding your arm across to use a controller on the back of your wrist for even a few minutes and you’ll see the problem. It’s just not a natural position.
The story of the Powerglove rather reflects a limited product being over hyped. Selling 100,000 units in the US, the unit didn’t do too bad all told, at least initially.
However, it was a critical and commercial disaster pretty much as soon as people realised it was hideously impractical for normal games and that the 2 games specifically designed for it were, if we are being generous, complete drivel. To make matters worse, Nintendo didn’t even release any dedicated games for it in Japan, the home of crazy gaming ideas, meaning it was pretty much a joke from the get go out East.
The thing is, though, for as much of a complete disaster the Powerglove was, I think it’s something special. Yes, the thing is about as practical a gaming peripheral as trying to play a normal game with a Guitar Hero controller (if you haven’t tried, give it a go… funny as hell) and, yes, the thing looks ridiculous, but the Powerglove represents something important. Without the drive for innovation and development it represents gaming wouldn’t have got very far. Hell it wouldn’t even exist. Really, in its basic sense, the Powerglove is in essence no different to the first Pong machine or the Duckhunt Gun. It’s an innovation, something that someone thought would entertain people and could be a hit. It’s inspiration in physical form and, while the Powerglove was flawed and failed, other innovations didn’t and that’s why we have the amazing industry we have today.
While it may look a bit ridiculous today, for all its faults the Powerglove represents all that is good about the drive and ambition of the gaming industry and, because of that, it’s something a little bit special.
And, that being the case, there’s really one way to sign off:
I love the Powerglove, it’s so bad!
Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org