In the push toward a kind of pure, rule-based understanding of what videogames really are, the sensory pleasures of being in another place are often treated as secondary experiences. Yet, for many the experience of simply being somewhere can be as powerful as the experience of winning at something. At E3, Nintendo showed a Panorama View tech demo that allowed players to use the Wii U controller as a personal viewing portal.
Video on the television screen played simple video footage of a city sidewalk or a double-decker bus tour through London. Initially the footage on the Wii U controller appears to be identical but rotating the controller around reveals new angles of view in the environment. There’s nothing to do in the demo other than enjoy the primal tug of curiosity as you wonder what’s just beyond the frame of view.
In unveiling new details of iOS 6 at the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple showed a similar feature with its redesigned Maps app. The app will let users switch to a satellite view of major cities around the world and hit a button for a flyover-view of a particular landmark. The onstage demo featured a camera panning around San Francisco’s Bank of America tower, with the angle of view and orientation adjustable by users.
Like Wii U’s Panorama demo, the feature seems perfectly superfluous, something done because it’s technically possible but not utilitarian. Yet both are strangely soothing ways to sate one’s basic curiosity. In the same way that the essence of rule-based games bait one’s ego with the promise of a slightly improved performance in the next round, Panorama View and iOS’s flyover view are exponents from the opposite end of the interactive spectrum, artifacts of the human hunch that what lies directly ahead can’t be all there is to see.