The History of Nintendo’s Power Glove
Nintendo’s Power Glove, released in October 1989, was the first mass marketed gesture-based gaming controller. Its technology predates most gesture controllers, motion controllers, or virtual reality devices as well.
Aside from being one of the first gesture-based controllers, the Power Glove was also one of the first “virtual reality” devices marketed for home use. It’s also a precursor to motion-based gaming controllers since it uses sensors to detect motion.
The technology for the Power Glove wasn’t invented by Nintendo, rather it’s based on the dataglove created in 1977 by EVL. The Data Glove and Power Glove were patented in 1982 by Thomas G. Zimmerman and Jaron Lanier.
A company called AGE improved the technology over the years before approaching Mattel. Mattel licensed a scaled back at home version of the Power Glove to Nintendo in time for a rushed Christmas 1989 release.
The Power Glove sold well, but a lack of support led to it being abandoned by Nintendo. The last and only game actually made for the Power Glove called Power Glove Ball was released the same month the project was abandoned.
A really great Power Glove documentary by Gaming Historian. The claim that the glove was “the first mass marketed gestured-based device” was the inspiration for this fact-check.
FACT: Jaron Lanier coined the modern usage of the term “virtual reality” as the glove allowed the wearer to use gestures to interact with a virtual world.
What is a “Gestured-Based Device”?
Gesture recognition computing can work in many ways. It can work like an iPad or it can use motion recognition to work more like a Wii. As long as it uses gesture for input rather than traditional input methods, it is gestured-based.
The History of Gesture Controlled Gaming Devices
The first devices that allowed us to manipulate computers, like the mouse, were created in the early to mid-1960’s.
In 1972, Atari released one the first arcade games Pong bringing gaming to a mass audience over the 1970’s.
Non-Conventional Gaming Controllers
The first games that used more innovative controllers included an arcade punching glove controller from Sega in 1976, a Sega punching bag controller in 1981, and a Sega arcade motorbike controller in 1985.
In 1986, three years before the release of the Power Glove, Nintendo released it’s “Power Pad” fitness / dance controller.
The Data Glove
In 1977 a company called Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) invented the first wired glove or “dataglove”. In 1982, Thomas G. Zimmerman and Jaron Lanier patented their own unique wired gloves. Their Data Glove was for computing and their Power Glove was for gaming. The idea was picked up and refined by Abrams/Gentile Entertainment (AGE). The Power Glove design was then licensed by Nintendo in 1987. It was released to the public two years later after being first redesigned by others including Mattel and Zimmerman and Lanier.
The Power Glove glove became the first gesture-based controller and one of the first home virtual reality controllers when it was released by Nintendo in 1989.
Nintendo’s Power Glove, The First Gesture-Based Gaming Controller
While we can consider anything from the mouse to Nintendo’s Power Pad gesture-based to some extent, the 1989 Power Glove was the first true gesture recognition device. The Power Glove is a true gesture-based device because it could work with “only gestures” and didn’t require the user to “press buttons” for input.
While the Power Glove wasn’t the first gesture device invented, it was the device to be mass marketed for the purposes of gaming.
An explainer and demonstration of the Power Glove.
The Power Glove’s Lasting Impact
The Power Glove was ahead of its time in many respects, the actual Data Glove and Power Glove were power tools that were refined by 89, but the $75 version that made it to the home market was prone to malfunction and not much fun.
The Power Glove may have been a flop lasting less than a year on the market, but given its backstory, it’s actually an important device in the history of Virtual Reality and modern computing and gaming. The same concepts foreshadowed by the Power Glove would appear in the 2002 P5 Glove for PC (which also flopped due to a lack of support), but wouldn’t return in a meaningful way until devices like the Nintendo Wii 2006 and the iPad 2010.
Today gesture-based control and motion-based control are more important than ever with emerging new technologies like the modern versions of Augmented and Virtual Reality in gaming and beyond.
FACT: Nintendo has always been an early adapter of Virtual Reality related technology. One of their other biggest flops, the Virtual Boy released in 1995, predates the Oculus by 20 years. Unfortunately, the Virtual Boy was almost as bad as the Power Glove, it was arguably more fun, but certainly more headache inducing and anti-social.
A Virtual Boy documentary by Gaming Historian.