There is a scene in Back to the Future 2 in which Marty McFly steps into the Café 80s in the year 2015. He finds a familiar arcade game called Wild Gunman and attempts to impress a couple kids (one of them being a young Elijah Wood) by showing them how good he is at this game. After scoring a "crack shot" (meaning he shot all the bandits on the screen without missing), one of the kids remarks, "You mean you have to use your hands? That's like a baby's toy."
Of course, this was a quick little gag that was never meant to be taken seriously. But still, in the late 1980s it was a lot of fun to think about a future in which we didn't need to use our hands for things like playing video games.
So here we sit, two decades later. The year 2015 is almost upon us. While most of the things predicted in Back to the Future 2 are pretty unrealistic – flying cars and clothes that auto-fit themselves to the wearer, for example – this hands-free thing is something that actually exists in the gaming industry today.
Microsoft's Kinect allows players to "become the controller" and play a video game without having to touch anything. This device is still fairly new, so developers haven't had their hands on it for long enough for it to really show its potential. And this means the future of "hands-free gaming" isn't written in stone yet. Anything could happen.
I'm willing to bet that both Sony and Nintendo are keeping a close eye on the Kinect. While each has its own version of motion controls – the Move and the Wiimote – both versions require controllers. If controller-free gaming turns out to be the next big thing, I guarantee Sony will have a quick response. In fact, the PS3 is halfway there with the PlayStation Eye, which is already being used to detect the motions of the Move device. If Sony decides to release another generation of the Eye, the upgraded version could very well function similar to the Kinect.
Nintendo is the gaming industry's wild card and doesn't necessarily follow trends. Yet it would be pretty strange if the company that popularized motion controls were unwilling to keep on top of this evolving type of gaming. In fact, Nintendo's next console could very well include a Kinect-like feature right out of the box, making hands-free gaming one of the core concepts of the console (just like motion control was a core concept of the Wii).
All of this brings up one important question: if the gaming industry fully embraces a controller-free experience, will the classic button-and-stick controllers soon be obsolete? I mean, why constrain yourself with a controller when you can enjoy your gaming experience without having to hold on to anything?