Video games aren’t really much fun anymore, digital media designer Peter Buczkowski says. While in decades past, games could be completed over the course of a few lazy Saturdays on the couch, many games today are full-time jobs: an endless grind of unlockables, achievements, levels, marginally better equipment, and experience points. They’re like “never ending to-do lists,” says Buczowski. “One just wants to finish.”
If video games these days feel like working the assembly line, reasons Buczkowski, why shouldn’t they play like it too? That’s the idea behind Current Times, an analog controller that’s inelegant by design, dividing the labor of a single-player game into something that can only be accomplished by 21 people at once.
Resembling a switchboard, the Current Times control box has all the functionality of an Xbox controller and can be used with the same games. What makes it different is that it’s been redesigned to be particularly anti-ergonomic. Every button has been broken out into its own separate clicker. So if you were playing Street Fighter II, one controller would move forward. Another would move back. Still another would kick, another would jump, and so on.
That means playing even the first level of Super Mario Bros. with the controller requires about as much as teamwork, coordination, and assembly as putting together an automobile. That’s also where the name Current Times comes from–it rifs off of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 comedy film about assembly line workers, Modern Times.
“My idea was to use division of labor, one of the most common practice of the industrial world, and apply it on computer games,” explains Buczkowski. “Like on an assembly line, every input becomes one small part of the complete process. Each player is an expert in their individual task, without a bond to the end product, which is the finished game.”