This article is part of a new initiative on IGN where we spend a whole month exploring topics we find interesting in the world of video games (and hope you will, too!). April is our Urban Legends month, when we’ll take a look at the bizarre, eerie, untold, and otherwise unexplained phenomena within the gaming community.
If there’s a video game peripheral heaven, the Xbox Kinect is surely there, after a life short-lived and mourned by few. However – fitting for a peripheral which seemed to be dying right from the start – the afterlife has given the Kinect a second chance.
These days, gamers aren’t buying Kinects, but ghost hunters are.
Ghost Hunters Equipment, a retail outlet of the haunted house tour operator GhoSt Augustine (based in St Augustine, Florida), specializes in providing tools for those searching out specters, from the low tech dowsing rods – little L shaped metal rods which allegedly twitch in the presence of spirits – to the more advanced made-to-order Paranologies Parascope, a handheld fan-shaped device with glowing prongs which are “individually crafted for ghost hunting”, and the Para4ce Paranormal Music Box, a coffin-shaped device designed “to attract paranormal activity” in a room.
One of their pricier items is the Kinect SLS Camera rig, which comes packed not only with an Xbox 360 Kinect but also a Windows tablet, audio equipment, infrared recording and screen capture software, all for $659.00 (though you can just get the Kinect sensor for $399.00). At that price, it’s for serious ghost hunters only but, according to GhoSt Augustine, it can yield surprising results.
The key is in the Kinect’s technology that picks up when a new person enters the room to play. The Kinect comes with a VGA camera, which aids with facial recognition and identifying body shapes, as well as a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor, which means it can sense depth and see in 3-D. This is supposed to stop false positives of vaguely human shapes, and the Kinect should, theoretically, only recognise actual players.
But, in some cases, the Kinect picks up bodies when there isn’t an actual person entering the room, notifying the player that someone – or something – has joined their game. Nicole from GhoSt Augustine explained that it’s easy to immediately assume there was a problem with the Kinect, but the phenomena extended beyond just a notification. “Some believed that it was simply a defect in the system,” she said. “However, many others were not only noticing that another person entered the game but also experienced an unseen person actually using the motion controller to operate the system as another player.”
That idea of a “defect in the system,” is important, as Nicole was eager to point out that GhoSt Augustine tries to debunk everything prior to believing that it is paranormal activity. “We do not assume that everything that happens is automatically paranormal.”
Does it actually work though? That’s the million-dollar – or, at least, 399 dollar – question. Like everything dealing with the supernatural, the answer is a resounding ‘maybe’. There is a science to it, which relies on the Kinect’s structured light sensor (SLS), a camera which not only picks up human figures “one can’t see with the naked eye,” but also makes it “easier to spot an anomaly than a Full Spectrum or IR camera.”
Got that? Don’t worry, there’s more. As Nicole explained; “It is better than other cameras and motion detectors because the software ‘sees’ people by recognizing joints and movements.” In essence, because the Kinect was specifically designed to pick up humans – while other cameras just film what’s in front of them – it can actively spot ghosts – human-shaped ones, anyways – in the immediate vicinity.
The Kinect SLS Camera has an infrared light projector with a monochrome CMOS sensor that shows everything as dots arranged in 3D formation.“These infrared dots allow the camera to show depth and detail,” Nicole said. “It is much easier to capture a possible ghost with the Kinect SLS camera since it is clearly depicted as a stick figure. It is really amazing the way one can see the figure move so clearly.”
It all sounds a little Mulder & Scully, but then… Mulder & Scully were right in the end. GhoSt Augustine did provide some picture evidence but, again, it comes with a bit of that ‘maybe’ attached.
These images both clearly show stick figures where no human is standing. Is it just a flub in the Kinect’s over-enthusiastic technology, or confirmation of a spirit world? The theory goes that these figures are created by leftover spectral traces of a physical form; the presence of the dead in the place they once lived. The distinct outline is clear to see, and the Kinect was specifically designed to ignore anything which wasn’t a moving body. Then again, it doesn’t feel like the ghosts have been caught red-handed.
It’s not just human ghosts the Kinect can find either; this second image allegedly shows the ghost of two dogs, where the owner “believes that it was his two little dogs that passed away in the house.” According to Nicole, “as you can see, one dog is sitting with its leg up as if it is scratching itself and the other stick figure is the second dog sitting on the owner’s shoulder, which is how he used to carry him.” You can see it if you squint, but you have to squint a lot. If you believe in ghosts, you’ll likely take this as proof, and if you don’t, this probably won’t convince you.
You can always see for yourself though. Not just by grabbing a Kinect kit either, but by joining GhoSt Augustine on a tour at their St Augustine haunted house in Florida. On the Para4ce Investigations and the Everdark Express tours, the Kinect is used to aid ghost hunting and has even featured in ghost hunter TV shows like Ghost Adventures or Expedition Unknown: The Afterlife.
If you’re planning on heading along though, be ready for “long, tedious hours of looking through video and audio recordings, and investigating a site that is dusty, contaminated, or freezing cold.” It also means being “extremely methodical, patient and persistent,” with Nicole even comparing it to fishing; “Sometimes you only capture one possible piece of evidence of paranormal activity despite all the hours of recordings. And sometimes you catch nothing. It’s more like night fishing though… cause ghost hunters do it in the dark.”
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GhoSt Augustine is far from the only supernatural investigator out there using the Kinect. The tech has piqued the curiosity of many in the ghostbusting business. A quick YouTube search throws up a wide array of individual hobbyists, while the League of Occult Research and Education have reported similar findings to GhoSt Augustine, with ghost enthusiasts discovering an unseen entity operating the motion controls. For an add on quickly forgotten by players, it’s certainly had its share of the spotlight.
In many ways, the Kinect was a luckier peripheral than most. Very few gain any traction at all, and through Kinect Adventures and Xbox Fitness, it had at least two memorable offerings. In the end, though, it went the way of all peripherals, but it seems to be enjoying its second shot at life. It’s settled into ghost hunting much better than it did as the center point of the Xbox One. Who knows? It might even find the ghost of the Power Glove one of these days.
Stacey Henley is a freelance writer who can often be found wandering new lands, exploring vast terrains and journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. In real life, she normally stays home and/or on Twitter.