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PLEASE: Stop Putting Coffee Tables in Your Living Rooms, Gamers Need The Space February 4, 2023

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.

I grew up at a time when a furnished family room would include several essential components. This was typically the room which included the largest television in the house so everything in it revolved around the TV. Because of that, it would be typical to find a big couch (or sectional) and several bookshelves for print, music or movie storage flanking the opposite walls. Most people take for granted that while the TV would be the focus of the room, it would not be the center of it. If you look at the majority of home photos of people in their living rooms over the past fifty years, you’ll likely find a giant unused table somewhere between their couch and their television. This giant object was the coffee table, and I honestly can’t remember living in a home that didn’t have one.

For a while, things were good, as the coffee table could provide benefits for a home television room. The coffee table allowed a communal location for people to leave their beverages while sitting on their couches, as well as a communal resting place for things like the remote control or a magazine. In the days before on screen guides, television viewers relied on the weekly newspaper or TV Guide magazine to get the times for upcoming programming, so having a place to put that information was useful. Later on as this became less essential, it became trendy for people to decorate their coffee tables with interesting hardcover art books, which created the sub genre of art book many to this day call the Coffee Table Book.

However, things were not always good with the coffee table. Having an enormous THING in the middle of open space can cut down on the amount of useable space in the room, preventing more people from sitting or standing in it. It could also be a trip hazard, as most coffee tables are only knee-high and someone with low visibility could easily walk into it and injure themselves. In a time when remote controls required a point-to-point IR beam to function, the coffee table would be a common barrier between the television and the couch. Also, the vast majority of them were made of substandard material, as no matter how expensive it was, or how beautiful it looked in the showroom floor, there was no way of knowing if doing something as simple as putting a wet drink on it would destroy it. It is also too low to sit around comfortably, making it pointless to sit around to eat or play games at.

While it had its issues, for the longest time, they were considered minor and the coffee table continued on. In 2007, the Nintendo Wii was released, which was the first mass market gaming console that primarily used a motion-based controller. That meant the Wii required an unobstructed view between the player and the television sensor just to function. Previously, the coffee table’s worst transgression was the remote blocking. Since a Wiimote used very similar technology to what was found in a standard remote, unlike a remote it required precise pointing and direction to work correctly, having an obstruction between the couch and television started to become less practical. Also, games were no longer becoming passive experiences people could play from their couches. The Wiimote was just the first in what became a massive motion control arms race, with some requiring controllers, like the PlayStation Move or Joy-Con, and others like the Kinect, simply requiring unobstructed views between the sensor and the player.

What were the consequences of this motion control arms race? It meant a fundamental change in the structure of how gamers organized their gaming rooms. In the days of wired gaming controllers, it was common for players to sit close to the tv to play their games, as they could only sit as far back as their cables would extend. When wireless game controllers became standard for the PS3 and Xbox 360’s controllers, range was expanded and games could be played anywhere in a room, and obstructions were now meaningless. Following the mass adoption of motion controls came the creation of virtual sport and exercise games, which absolutely necessitated an open space to play. This continues on, as even my Apple Watch and Meta Quest Pro have the ability to track physical activities and can get you to use your body for everything from yoga to dance. Now, with motion games, you not only HAD to sit at a further distance from your television, any physical obstruction between you and the television could prevent your gestures from registering with the game. In the gaming space, this can be the difference between win or lose.

In the past two years we’ve seen a wide adoption of home Virtual Reality (VR) platforms. The first generations of these headsets required a wired connection to your PC or game console, as well as an external sensor for head and controller tracking. I can tell you from experience, playing a game in these conditions required not just a lot more open space around the player, but for the user to be a further than normal distance away from the screen. Otherwise, the tracking sensors would have trouble capturing player movement accurately. Having a VR headset on is tantamount to essentially playing a game blindfolded, and it is very easy for a user to lose track of their real-world position while in an active game. Nowadays, stand-alone VR headsets do exist, and many of them will allow you to set external boundaries upon startup, but you MUST have a reasonable amount of open space around you while you play to have a comfortable gaming experience.

So now that you have a better understanding of the current state of what is required to be a modern day gamer, you can see that space is important, and obstructions can be disastrous. So I ask again, why would someone want to limit both of these options just to have an obsolete piece of furniture, offering functions that can be replicated far more conveniently with other objects, in their way? What purpose do coffee tables honestly serve in the year 2023 other than to fill space? Even their original purposes, a communal space to keep your beverage, are no longer practical, as liquid easily damages most of them, and a simple end table next to the couch can hold your drink and your remote control just as conveniently. Heck, most couches made in the last fifty years have cup holders built in them! (ED NOTE: There are a lot of traditionalists who refuse to buy couches with cup holders out of some obsolete sense of aesthetic. Their opinions on the matter are wrong). Heck, due to its low height, the coffee table is useless for even non-electronic gaming, as most pen and paper or board gamers (who may prefer the name tabletop gamers) I’m aware of prefer to play on kitchen or dining room tables.

In the year 2023 VR and Motion controls are mainstream, and while it may no longer be essential for external sensors to be placed in your gaming space, having a wide open space to play games is now the required standard. This should be the beginning of the end of the coffee table, which only exists in the modern day to take up that essential gaming space. The books and magazines that they were meant to hold can be better stored in bookshelves. The remotes or drinks they were meant to hold can be better placed and more accessible on an end table or built-in armrest. So can we all agree the coffee table needs to go? I promise I won’t come for your floor lamps next.



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