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A new controller developed at the University of Utah may change how video games are experienced.

The new gaming device looks like a standard Microsoft Xbox or Sony Playstation controller, but the two thumb joysticks react to the game and push the player’s fingers in different directions.

For example, if a player’s character in a game runs into a wall, then the thumb sticks, or “tactors,” will move back to simulate an impact. Similarly, when a soldier in a war video game crawls on the ground, the “tactors” move alternately to imitate the action on the screen.

The thumb sticks also provide directional cues to players by stretching the skin of the thumb in the intended direction.

“I’m hoping we can get this into production when the next game consoles come out in a couple of years,” said William Provancher, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the U., in a statement. “We have developed feedback modes that enhance immersiveness and realism for gaming scenarios such as collision, recoil from a gun, the feeling of being pushed by ocean waves or crawling prone in a first-person shooter game.”

Provancher and his students are demonstrating the device at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Haptics Symposium in Vancouver, British Columbia, through Wednesday.

The haptic, or touch, experience in video game controllers began with the Nintendo64 system’s “rumble pack” in 1997.

The controller also provides an opportunity to conduct research.

Provancher’s previous research showed that the same technology in a steering wheel was able to guide drivers just as well as an audio navigation system.

Newest studies show that “by placing skin-stretch feedback in a game controller, it creates a nice testing environment for understanding human perception and cognition,” Provancher said.

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