There are many symbols of retro video gaming, but arguably none more recognizable or intriguing than the Power Glove for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Directors Adam Ward and Andrew Austin, along with their co-director Paula Kosowski, are taking this to heart with their documentary The Power of Glove.
The Power Glove was released by Mattel for the NES in 1989 and was featured prominently in the Super Mario Bros. 3 commercial The Wizard. We can see why the Power Glove got such high billing. The Power Glove looks cool—radical, even. And the idea behind it is just as great as it sounds. But, have you ever used one? Ward recalls his own first experience with the Power Glove, one that will likely resonate with yours, if you have one: “It barely fit my hand because I was so little! I couldn’t figure out how to get it to work, mostly because I wasn’t using the correct games for it. Back then, I didn’t know there was a companion game for the Power Glove called Super Glove Ball, so I was trying to play Super Mario Bros. with it. The level of frustration I felt while trying to beat world 1-1 of Mario was downright epic! In a fit of rage I tossed the glove into the back of my closet where it stayed for many years.”
The Power of Glove looks at the rise and fall of the contraption and why it’s still around, so ingrained in popular retro gaming culture.
“Aside from being a historically significant piece of technology (the first mass-marketed, gesture-based computing device), the Power Glove is just plain awesome. We’ve met so many gamers who told us that as kids, the Power Glove excited them in a way that is really incomparable to anything they’d ever experienced before or since. It really was supposed to change the way we played video games and interact with computers forever. On the other hand, despite the fact that the Power Glove was actually a pretty impressive piece of hardware, the Power Glove turned out to be a critical disappointment; it taught a generation of consumers that reality can’t always live up to our dreams for the future. That being said, we’re finally coming to an age today where the dreams of the Power Glove are slowly becoming a reality. So, the Power Glove is really versatile in its ability to touch on a variety of themes,” Austin explained.
Austin and Ward met as graduate students in Documentary Film at Wake Forest University, where they first began the project, all self-funded. In order to finish it, the team has set up a Kickstarter.
The Directors interviewed those instrumental in the development of the Power Glove—both the hardware and the software. They also focused a lot of attention on Power Glove-related creative projects.
Production on The Power of Glove began two years ago as a much less involved endeavor. “At the time, we thought the film would be rather simple and short, and that we’d only have to interview a few people in order to understand the Power Glove. We quickly found that the Power Glove’s history was more complex and intricate than we’d imagined, and we knew that we’d have to expand the scope of the project in order to give the Power Glove its proper credit. The same can be said about the community of people who are keeping the Power Glove alive; they were much more involved and expansive than we’d originally expected,” said Ward.
In their journey of making this documentary, Ward and Austin uncovered a great deal of promotional and never-before-seen materials. One fact they were surprised to learn about was that Mattel was working on another version of the Power Glove that was ready for market. “The ‘Turbo Sport’, as it was called, improved on all of the flaws that plagued the original version of the Glove. Oh, and it was a very bad-ass jet black. It’s interesting to think what might have happened with the story of the Power Glove if that second version had been released,” explained Ward.
As bizarre as you may think the Power Glove is, one has to wonder what could have been—not only in relation to the Power Glove specifically, but also to gaming technology in general. Before the WiiMote, the Power Glove was number one in motion/gesture-based video game controllers. “The success of the Power Glove would have paved the way for a slew of new and exciting motion controls. This isn’t to say that people haven’t developed motion controls similar in concept to the Glove, but that motion controls didn’t reach mass-market popularity again until Nintendo released the Wii,” said Austin.
Only two games were officially released for use specifically with the Power Glove—Super Glove Ball (a puzzle game) and Bad Street Brawler (beat ‘em up). There are three unreleased games that had been announced—Glove Pilot, Manipulator Glove Adventure, and Tech Town/Tektown. “One of the Power Glove creators was kind enough to lend us a VHS tape of recorded demo game footage, and a good portion of that footage we haven’t been able to match up to any of the games [mentioned above],” Austin said.
Beyond the conventional uses for the Power Glove, many users and artists re-purpose the technology in various ways. “Yeuda Ben-Atar (a.k.a. Side Brain) has a Glove that he’s rigged up to control his music loops on Ableton Live. It’s fun to see him getting into the music, dancing around his set, and grabbing notes out of thin air. Yeuda’s modification makes the act of creating music much more kinetic, which, in a way, really speaks to the original dream of the Power Glove,” said Ward.
The tale of the Power Glove should prove to be an interesting story and shed light on what really happened and what could have been. While the Power Glove has a largely negative reputation due to its imprecise controls, the truth of the matter remains: a lot of people still love the Power Glove– technology created by passionate individuals who wanted to change how we played video games in a positive way. “The most rewarding aspect has been witnessing the Power Glove creators become excited at finally getting some recognition for the hard work and sweat that they invested into this really fascinating piece of hardware. Up until now, the majority of press about the Power Glove (especially on the internet) has been decidedly negative,” said Austin.
Love it or hate it, the Power Glove set a movement of how we play video games in motion. The fact that we’re still talking about it 25 years later shows that it’s bigger than we could have ever anticipated. “The Power Glove is representative of a philosophy about human beings and our relationship with technology. It’s not enough for us as humans to create digital worlds, we also hunger for the ability to reach out and touch them,” Ward explained.
Ward and Austin are aiming to complete The Power of Glove by mid 2015, followed by a festival run and digital/DVD release. For the foreseeable future, the creators are dedicated to finishing the film and making good on their commitments to their Kickstarter supporters. “We plan to eat, sleep, and breathe the Power Glove until this movie is done,” promised Ward.