The People vs. Touch Interfaces

“I don’t see how you can play games on that thing, it doesn’t have any buttons.”

Contributed By: Jordan Mallory
Freelance Gaming Journalist

Anyone who has ever been caught gaming on their iDevice has heard this before, and depending on what games they’ve bought, they may or may not agree with the sentiment. MegaMan 2 owners can attest that touch controls can really suck, but anyone who owns Infinity Blade knows that touch controls can be really great. So, why is there a difference? An interface is an interface, right? It either works or it doesn’t, right? The answer, confusingly, is “sometimes.” It really boils down to what game you’re playing.

“But wait,” you might say. “Console games can have controls that go either way, how is this any different?” The difference is that despite how individual games control, we as consumers have all agreed that the interface itself is a good piece of technology. Buttons work! We like buttons. Analog sticks? I’ll take two, please. However, touch interfaces are still very much up for debate. Consumers and industry insiders alike all have their own opinions about this technology and whether or not its implementation into the gaming sphere is beneficial to the industry as a whole.

Some gamers will tell you that touch is useless due to its lack of precision and tactile feedback. Fighting game enthusiasts, for instance, maintain there’s no way to accurately execute complex, frame-specific combos using a touch-screen, and they’re right. Performing a hadoken or shoryuken may be just as easy to pull off using touch, but there’s a reason why BlazBlue has never been released for iOS.

Flip that coin right over, though, and you’ll find RPG and RTS gamers proclaiming that touch-screens are the best thing to happen to them since additional pylons. Turn-based battle systems can be dramatically improved when a game is developed with touch in mind, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an armchair general who wouldn’t want to remove the mouse from their chain of command.

So, who’s right? Someone has to be right, right? And that’s the problem, because in the case of The People vs. Touch Interfaces, no one is right.

Our community is very static in its opinions. Things are either good or they’re not, and very rarely (if ever) can something be considered both. Touch as a gaming technology is a very tofu-esque concept, and its worth as an interface relies entirely on its implementation. When we play a game with horrible touch controls, our first instinct is to think “Man, touch gaming blows,” when we should really be thinking “Man, this game’s implementation of touch blows.”

We’re not headed for a future without controllers, but Google and Apple will be more than happy to tell you that touch gaming is here to stay. So the next time someone asks how you can stand to play games on that thing, just remember that Kranzberg has your comeback ready for you:

“Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”