At the Nokia Theater in downtown LA this morning, Nintendo’s E3 press briefing for its new lineup included the expected cast of characters for its Wii and DS platforms. Among the announced products were more than one new Mario game, a new Metroid game, and a new feature for the DS which allows you to edit photos and upload them directly to Facebook. But the most interesting — and least discussed — new announcement was about a hardware accessory for the Wii which provides the platform with the ability to literally take the pulse of the player, while playing.
As shown in these incredibly blurry photos taken at the event, the device that Nintendo execs are calling the Wii Vitality Sensor, looks like a small plastic sleeve into which you slip an index finger. A cable connects the Vitality Sensor to the Wiimote controller.
The tease for the Vitality Sensor explained that it would give Wii developers the ability to design games that use this type of input—games which can read the player’s physical state in a way that no current-generation console can. In theory, said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, such an accessory could be used in, for example, a game designed to help the player relax and control his or her heart rate.
While this kind of biofeedback in games isn’t exactly new–especially so for Nintendo, which released a short-lived biofeedback sensor with a game for its Nintendo 64 platform years ago — the timing of the announcement is interesting, when you consider that the other two members of the console maker’s club are expected to announce point-at-the-screen game controllers like the Wii currently uses.
I don’t think Nintendo intends to recreate The Journey to Wild Divine for the Wii, but it isn’t hard to see how, combined with the Wii Fit controller, a heart rate monitor would make a pretty useful fitness gaming accessory. A number of developers have been working on games that use biofeedback to train players to relax. A version of something similar for the Wii — which has already brought huge numbers of casual gamers into the console market — would open up the market for so-called relaxation games to a much broader audience.