I was at Microsoft's high concept "Project Natal Experience" event last night. Like almost all the assembled guests, I came away shaking my head.
It was easily the most baffling and bizarre gaming event I've attended. The clash of whimsical performance art and ultra-casual gaming left many of us asking just what the hell Microsoft was up to.
Garbed in white ponchos with oversized shoulder pads, the throng of media and industry people squeezed onto the floor and surrounding tiered seats was a ridiculous sight. I was on the standing room only floor area where dancers dressed in nymphlike outfits tumbled and shimmied all around. It was a bemusing experience.
A voice bellowed out that technology has been using us for too long. It then asked a question of epically vacuous proportions: what if the future of humanity... was humanity itself?
A little boy climbed the mountain set up as a stage at one end of the room. At each step he pulled out an Xbox controller and played a traditional Xbox game: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Kameo and one I didn't recognised. When he reached the top, he no longer needed a controller.
And Kinect was unveiled.
The Cirque du Soleil dancers gave way to a plastic nuclear family, perma-grinning their way through a series of unnamed Kinect titles. We watched kids driving karts by leaning left and right; mum doing her daily workout; dad running on the spot in the 100m sprint.
It soon became clear that there was a disconnect (pun intended) between the event and its audience. A room full of traditional gamers was inevitably cynical about such casual games. But that's the thing: they're not for us.
Kinect is for your mum, your grandad, your four year old kid who has never played games. At least, that's what the lineup of launch titles tells us.
Kinect is about tapping into a wider audience than gaming hasn't been able to interest before.
And that's why Microsoft held this event. It was done for TV. This event is being shown in primetime TV all over the world. People who don't care for games will tune in to see Cirque du Soleil. And, Microsoft hopes, they'll see this Kinect thing and think "Hey, that looks like fun."
More importantly, they'll think "Hey, I can do that."
Whether Microsoft is right about that remains to be seen.