“I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”
In 1989, Nintendo released one of the most infamous video game peripherals in the history of gaming: The Power Glove. If you want, you can call it a distant predecessor of the Xbox Kinect. It was one of the very first pieces of gaming hardware to try to harness human motion as a method of game interaction. And it was terrible.
The Power Glove, released by toy company Mattel, did not work. If you think the Kinect was bad, you’ve never experienced the complete lack of function that is the Power Glove. All of two games were released with it in mind, and they weren’t fun. All the other stuff in the ads – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!, Double Dragon – that stuff didn’t even work. If something like the Power Glove was released today, there’d be Internet petitions, class action lawsuits, and probably actual protests. It was really that bad.
But it was kind of genius, too. Just the image of it had instant cultural cachet. It looked like The Future. Like something out of Tron, something you’d imagine Case wearing in Neuromancer. Then it popped up in that Nintendo marketing vehicle thinly disguised as a movie, The Wizard (which I somehow remember fondly even knowing it was a video game informercial). Just like in the ads, with that futurekid and his sunglasses, Lucas appeared on screen in probably the coolest black jacket to ever grace film, surrounded by an entourage of kids ready to agree that he is the best guy at 97 different video games. Then he played Rad Racer, and uttered the classic line, “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”
I mean, he wasn’t lying. It is bad. But bad meant something different back then, and we took it hook, line, and sinker. I remember getting mine that year – I was lucky to have a mom who was supportive of my love of video games, probably to a fault. What’s weird is that I don’t remember being angry about it. Just disappointed. Like, it didn’t have any magic in it.
It ended up, until it disappeared, an accessory not for playing video games, but for when you needed to be a cyborg who shoots hand lasers. For that, it worked perfectly.
Years later, the Power Glove is emblematic of the 8-bit era despite being a total clunker. It’s generated memes, there’s a music group named after it, and musicians have even wired it up to act as a musical instrument of sorts. We all remember it as this symbol of what video games could be. 26 years later, motion control still eats it and buttons are still king.