When is a game not a game? I flicked through the new Edge on the way home yesterday with growing unease. EyeToy up for an award – fair do’s, it’s a great idea and well executed. Glowing review for karaoke game Singstar? Hmmm. News item on new virtual punching glove and a measurement device for computerising your real golf swing? HOLD ON A MINUTE.

Computer games have traditionally thrived on simulating things that we couch potatoes can’t actually do in real life. In order to run the actual 400 metres you need rather more than two fingers. This is as it should be. I am rubbish at golf and would find real golf a tiresome, frustrating and humiliating business. Computer golf is a great deal easier, an advantage which is suddenly removed if you have to grip and swing a real actual golf club – a crucial barrier of non-realism has vanished. To put my argument in a nutshell: if the skills you need for the computer game are the skills you need for the real life game then why not just do it in real life?

EyeToy avoids this by asking you to use the same skills you’ve built up via playing ordinary games – you react with your hands to stuff you see on a screen. So it’s all great fun. Rhythm Action games work along similar lines. The success of both though has brought the much-maligned peripheral back into sharp focus, and boxing and golfing body simulators are surely just the beginning. The idea is to tap into a party gaming market – but from my experience once you’ve played EyeToy at one party you’ve played it at all of them. For solo play the crucial immersion factor is likely to be lessened by the ‘feeling like a nob’ factor of standing in your living room gripping an invisible club.

SingStar meanwhile has more serious problems. By rating its players solely on pitch and timing it completely misses the point of karaoke, at least as practised in the UK. It’s not about singing well. It’s about a convincing, and hopefully entertaining performance. We’ve all sat cursing into our cocktails when someone gets up and does a note-perfect version of some drab ballad or other, to respectful but unenthused applause. This is the kind of thing SingStar is encouraging and this is why it deserves to flop (though it surely won’t).

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