Somewhere in the hype of E3 this year, a tiny little tidbit was dropped by Nintendo. And no one knows what to make of it. During their press conference, Nintendo announced the near-future release of the Wii Vitality Sensor. And the gaming world collectively said "What the...?"
Since the announcements of this device went over with a thud, a bit more information has leaked regarding the device. Basically, we're talking about a sensor that clips onto your finger and measures heart rate and, maybe, blood oxygen levels. Certainly a useful device, and certainly out of place on a console. It is hard to see what sort of use this could have in a game, but as Ars Technica points out, Nintendo has been absolutely right with odd devices in the past. I for one don't really care to bet against them.
Which leads to the question: What in the world are they going to do with this thing? Sure, there is probably a niche for one or two yoga-esque titles. Hardly the sort of the thing they would expect the gaming press at E3 to get excited about, but I'll concede a small yoga market. Now... what about the rest of us? What sort of a game could convince Joe Gamer to clip a vitality sensor to his finger before an evening of gaming?
A partial answer might already be found in some of the Wii Fit and Wii Sports titles. The vitality sensor could certainly add an element to the long distance running or fencing mini-games. I'm not sure the fun factor would be increased substantially, but there does seem to be a fit. But those games, mini-games really, are already out. An improved running in place title will hardly sell the vitality sensor.
I could see it used as a timing mechanism. By syncing some element of the game with the player's heartbeat, Nintendo could add an almost hypnotic aspect to a title. What sort of title? Excellent question. Rhythm games are the obvious choice, but I could imagine some potential in racing or RPG titles as well.
My favorite possibility is that the device may have a more passive impact on the gameplay experience. It could be that in the early levels of a game, the vitality sensor will monitor your body's response to various events. If you respond strongly to a zombie chucking headless squirrels at you, then the game will make sure that chucking zombies are found deeper in the game. Perhaps it can keep track of your reaction to certain NPCs or storylines, and adapt the story or artwork to better reflect that which draws the stronger physical responses on the reasoning that anything you like or dislike enough to affect your pulse is something you probably like or dislike enough to keep you gaming.
Or it could be that Nintendo has completely lost it and is flushing away money. There are some indications the vitality sensor will appear next year. At least we won't have long to wait.