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March 28, 2012 / jwaxo

Duck Hunt (Hand-Eye Coordination)

Keep that stupid dog from laughing at you.

In our youth, there was an crazy new game out there, one as mysterious as it was awesome. With it, you could take up a gun-like controller, point it at the screen, and interact with the game system in a way never seen before, outside of arcades. It was paving the way for new video game interactions, a harbinger for a new generation of consoles that would be unlike anything we had ever seen before. What would come next? Virtual reality goggles? Gloves with tactile feedback? Entire suits that shocked you to simulate pain and pushed against you to simulate force? Maybe an entire lack of a controller, something that just read body language and movement to control your character.

All of this from this one game and accessory.

No, I’m obviously not talking about the Wii, but something a lot more basic, and of course a heck of a lot cooler: Duck Hunt.

Clearly it wasn’t actually new when we first discovered Duck Hunt. It had launched pretty much with the release of the NES, often paired on a single cartridge with Super Mario Bros. In fact, when we finally discovered an unwanted copy of Duck Hunt at one of those legendary garage sales, complete with a pair of light guns, it was one of those duel-game cartridges, resulting in us owning two copies of the same game. We weren’t ones to complain, having searched all over for the game since we had first seen it at our friend’s house.

Something about an accessory shaped like a gun just called to us.

Duck Hunt was a pretty simple game. Ducks flew across the screen, and you had three shots to take them down. It used pretty basic technology that had been in arcades for years and still is, three decades after the NES first launched. You pointed at the screen, pulled the trigger, and the gun detected if you were actually pointing at a duck or, say, a tree, or the sky. If you missed too much, the stupid, hateful dog laughed at you, and you lost. Pretty revolutionary technology at the time, and the magic remained exactly that for a long time.

(On a side note, if we had known better, we could easily have cheated by just aiming the gun at a lightbulb or a white piece of paper: supposedly it wouldn’t know the difference)

It was the wave of the future, and so we dove in with both guns (so to speak). Shooting ducks, each other, or, as our dad preferred, trap shooting. But what I remember the most is how truly, ridiculously accurate we started to get after a time. After a while, standing in front of the TV wasn’t challenging enough for us, so we started moving away from it, more and more, until eventually standing in the kitchen and tagging down ducks.

Still spot on.

I particularly found that I did my best if I just kind of let my eyes glaze over while staring at the screen, taking everything in, so I could best react when a duck appeared. Then, when it did, my gun hands would move on their own, taking aim and rapidly clicking the trigger. More often than not, I would get my kill, and I would do my best if I was getting really tired.

That’s some hand-eye coordination.

Now, obviously I could make my stupid-obvious point that video games can train you in stupid little kid things that everyone needs to learn. “Reaction times” and “learning patterns” are easy to point out and look at. But the actual lesson here was something that I can safely say that I learned at the age of 5 purely because of Duck Hunt: that video games can actually teach you things like that. Maybe inadvertently, maybe not, but during those formative years I gradually increased my ability to point and shoot at things with hardly a second thought. And the realization that something like this could happen was pretty mind-blowing for my little Chicago Bull’s-hat-wearing self.

Practical application left something to be desired, occasionally.


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