Control schemes are crafted across different games, across multiple generations to form part of the lexicon of gaming.
First person shooter? It’ll play like Call of Duty, or maybe Halo.
Third person shooter? Gears of War.
2D Platformer? Press to jump.
It helps to sing from the same hymn sheet and so the lexicon has become established, embedded. But what about the games that dream a little larger? Not so large as to step outside of established motivations, mechanics and themes. Just enough to sprinkle a little extra colour into the palette.
to open the door
Contextual commands have long been a necessity borne of the limited number of buttons on a controller. Moreover, contextual commands are necessary to give the illusion of freedom. Freedom to influence all manner of objects in a rigorously designed world.
No, you can’t open that door.
No, you can’t pick up that cup.
No, you can’t use that computer.
Hey! Hey, this computer! Hey, this computer with the noticeably-brighter blueish-white glow emanating from it! You can use this computer!
to start playing the hologram
A couple of steps back from the core mechanics (shooting, running, jumping) are the extras that flesh out the protagonist or the world.
‘Interact’. The generic word that allows all manner of objects to become part of the game. ‘Interact’ brings furniture, doors, food and documents out of the realm of decor and into the world. Imagine the possibilities if ‘Interact’ could be brought to bear in other ways. Imagine the power of an ‘Interact’ button.
Pile as many different ‘non-essential’ actions onto that one button and suddenly we can ‘Interact’ with the world in entirely new ways. The corridor shooter becomes explorative, the empty room becomes filled with knick-knacks and boondoggles and collectibles and interactivity.
to put on the Praetor Suit
All those commands, neatly condensed onto one button. Each and every separate action becomes ‘Interact’ – the catch all.
Don’t ‘open’, ‘Interact’.
Don’t ‘pick up’, ‘Interact’.
Don’t ‘punch’, ‘Interact’.
One command for all manner of actions. The Swiss Army Knife of videogame controls – the ‘Interact’ button.
to grab an enemy’s skull and crush it into vapour
The humble controller evolved its very own opposable thumb and the horizons kept on expanding. Talk, sit, pour, drink, buy, love, sleep… all were now possible. But so hungry was the ‘Interact’ button that no one questioned its right to these actions. No longer would developers ever have to question whether shooting or talking was the focus of their game – stick to the tried and tested lexicon and let ‘Interact’ handle the new stuff.
to kick a Possessed Soldier in the spine and punch its head off
‘Interact’ is everything, but it is also one thing. Do this. Whatever I’m looking at right now. Do that. Whatever the button prompt says will happen when I ‘Interact’… DO IT!
to tear off a Possessed Worker’s arm and beat them to death with it
What we’re really saying is all secondary ‘Interactions’ are equal. ‘Open the door’ is the same as ‘Pick up the ancient artefact’. ‘Sleep on the bed’ is the same as ‘Login to the computer and read your email’. ‘Talk to your daughter’ is the same as ‘Vault over cover’. ‘Grieve at the site of your parents’ death’ is the same as ‘Flip over this henchman and kick him in the back’.
to pat the nice robot and get a weapon upgrade
In the case of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, press one too many times on your way out of a shop menu and you’ll elbow the vendor in the stomach, spin him wildly over the store counter, and punch him in the face as he lays on the floor, right in front of his bodyguards.
‘No, I do not wish to buy anything. Thank you, kind sir.’ = ‘Knock this idiot out, and be sure to look cool doing it… whatever the consequences’
to search the poor, dead engineer for a keycard
At first, I thought it quite apt to use for both a buttstroke melee and pushing a button or tapping a computer screen in (very) DOOM. Though the degree of force clearly differs, these are biomechanically similar actions involving pushing with the hand and/or arm. Once the range of actions for our much-vaunted ‘Interact’ button continued to expand, though, I started to overthink things a tad.
How many wildly-nuanced and starkly-different aspects of life are we willing to ascribe the same meaning when it comes to the games we play? Are all interactions equal? Certainly not, and I don’t imagine for a second that anyone involved in videogames would think that, but I do wonder if there isn’t a distinction between physical (functional) and emotional interactions that is being lost in translation.
to plunge your thumb through an Imp’s eye socket and tear off its jaw