Feel the Thrill

Force Feedback Gadgets Give Gamers a Jolt

Gamers love to claim they're hardcore. They hoard esoteric PlayStation imports like All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling. They fire up Quake III six hours a day. Not even carpal tunnel can stop them from wiggling their joysticks.

Ultimately, though, gamers are only as badass as their stuff. I experienced this over the holidays when one of my more desperate friends came over to check out NFL2K on my Dreamcast. He conceded halfheartedly that the QB's wintry breath mist in Soldier Field was cool enough. But what he really wanted to see, as he rummaged through my pile of swag, was the reel-shaped controller that came with the Sega Bass Fishing game.

Like obsessive music fans, car freaks, or sexual fetishists, hardcore gamers are compulsive about accessories: the superfluous hardware and high-priced simulators that only the most avid buy. Maybe it's a way of setting themselves apart from the plebeian masses. After all, it seems like everyone's playing these days. According to PC Data, computer and video game sales hit the $7 billion mark last year. This means we're spending as much on Final Fantasy and the like as on movie tickets.

With that many Game Boys on the subway, it's no wonder aficionados will shell out the extra bucks for gadgets like Nyko's Shock 'n' Rock device ($29.95). By slipping a Nintendo Game Boy into this specially designed ergonomic sleeve, players get to experience tactile thrills with their Tetris. The sleeve vibrates according to the action on-screen. The louder Mario splats, the greater the Shock 'n' Rock recoils. Sure beats sticking your finger in the socket.

There are conspiratorial rumors that this tingly technology, known as force feedback, was originally devised—like so many awesome things, it seems—for military applications. Trainees on combat simulators would feel bumps and jolts every time they blew up stuff or made contact, enhancing the realism. Force feedback has also crept its way into the medical profession. And for about $5000, gamers who feel like having a go at playing doctor might consider the Virtual Laparoscopic Interface, which literally gives you the feel of performing minimally invasive surgery. Like, forceps please, bro.

These days, force feedback computer game controllers in the shape of steering wheels, guns, and fishing reels abound. The Sega Bass Fishing controller imparts a convincing little shimmy any time you hook a big one. The Force Feedback Mouse from Logitech trembles with every rocket launcher discharge. According to Logitech's Web site, "force feedback can [also] enhance your WWW and desktop experience."

A more full-body experience can be had courtesy of the Intensor LX Sensory Entertainment Chair. The $179 chair hooks right up to your console system or PC and gives you little blasts of vibrations and thuds corresponding to the action on-screen. There's even a compatible vest you can buy that lets you feel, say, some bullets spray across your chest.

For serious machismo, nothing beats a realistic simulator. On the bargain end, Deer Hunter Electronic Skeet Shoot is an updated old-school-style game that lets you fire at tiny discs that project on your living room wall. If you really want to impress your buds, how about strapping them into a backyard cockpit? Desktop Sims, a small company in Texas, makes its own auto and flight simulator machines. You don't just play these stand-alone devices, you go inside them. The $1595 Sim Hawk Personal Simulator, for example, is a cockpit big enough for two people. Inside the steel and aluminum shell—made from real airplane parts—there's the big control board with rudder pedals and headsets. Customizable software plays on a screen while you practice your aeronautics. Barf bag sold separately.

The Lamborghini of sims is undoubtedly the Venturer S2ei Capsule Simulator, available through Neiman-Marcus. Made in England, this $96,000 pod seats two gamers who watch the action on a 33-inch screen. Customized software lets you tear up through your choice of motorcycle or auto races. Supposedly, the sultan of Brunei shelled out for a fleet of these babies for when he wants to blow off some steam. Imagine how many Sega Fishing rods that dude must have.

 
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