Recognizing Our Future
Video Games in the Next Decade
In the next 10 years realism in the gaming industry is going to climb to exponential heights. As game engine technology continues to develop and expand so too will the capability for handling more and more graphic input in real-time, which will lead to the outgrowth of the idea of the physical engine altogether. Games will have the ability to directly input data into the mind of the gamer and generate realism on par with ‘base reality’ by using our bodies internal neurochemical anatomy. Our neurons and internal electrical systems will in essence become the game engine itself. The question will no longer be whether or not a computer can exhibit intelligent behavior or masquerade as a person (eg. The Turing Test). Instead, the question will be whether a gamer’s mind will be able to distinguish between base reality and virtual reality, and with that realization will come many social and cultural ramifications. This will most notably affect our individual and societal ideas of which reality carries the most weight in our daily lives and on a global scale, as well as the emergence of a new social and economic class that will exist outside the traditional hierarchy. In addition this jump in realism will bring new physiological and psychological stresses to the gaming arena, once again raising the much debated problems of our cultures predisposition towards materialism, addiction and escapism. In the next decade gamers will not be choosing the games they play, they will be choosing the reality in which they play them.
It can be argued that our current idea of base reality, or the reality we as a society share and experience together (albeit from different perspectives), is in itself generated. Our minds take the brunt of this burden, altering and filtering what we see around us and transforming it into what is effectively our perception of the world. From this point of view virtual reality could be seen as an extension of that idea with one important difference: while we have very limited control over our base reality we would have almost omnipotent control over virtual reality. Is our desire to create better and better virtual worlds simply the extension of this search for control over our own base reality?
The idea of generated reality and video games is by no means a new topic in popular media. Science fiction, cyberpunk and fantasy genres in literature and film have paved the way for decades, perhaps hoping to familiarize society consciously or subconsciously with the fact that this is indeed the future. Movies like Vanilla Sky, The Game, and Existenz are among some of the more well known examples of the ‘waking dream’. Several other examples exist in japanese anime such as Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed and its sequel Appleseed: Ex Machina, and of course the global consciousness cloud at the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion, which all serve to make one idea perfectly clear: human beings have been dreaming only at night for so long it was only a matter of time and technological means that the pursuit of a living, waking dream take place.
It is fairly easy to see the linear development that is leading the way to virtual reality in game engine technologies and its accessories. However, the context that is oftentimes overlooked is the continuing development of game accessories, specifically hand held controllers, that are able to give more and more complex tactile feedback to the player. The technical evolution in this one area will be the starting place for gaming culture to begin thinking about outgrowing the idea of the physical engine. From a historical perspective this future is not so far fetched. Consider the move from the game boy or any hand-held device to analogue dual shock controllers and the Xbox Kinect and it’s Playstation counterpart. The first generations of hand-held gaming only allowed the player to experience visual and audio feedback, which came directly from the screen and whatever small internal speakers the device had. From there the move to game platforms and the analog controller interface pushed the feedback experience forward in a great leap. Not only would the player be able to experience the better visuals and sound associated with a jump in engine capability, they would also be able to have tactile, vibrational feedback from the controller itself. In our current time the Kinect has taken that concept and simply eliminated the physical mediator between the player and the game, which is already spawning a whole new generation of young gamers who see video games not in terms of a joystick, buttons and a screen, but as direct physical and spacial interfaces for their body movements.
The inner workings of a game are as important as the physical nuts and bolts of the game system itself. Two areas of game development are leading the way towards realism in gaming: character modeling and environmental modeling. The most often cited example of the leaps and bounds character modeling in games has taken in a few short years is Rockstar Entertainment’s L.A. Noire. However, despite its revolutionary lifelike facial expression and speech modeling there are a few other games which show great promise for things to come. One of these is the Uncharted franchise of games. While the graphics are wonderful in themselves, and the environments rich with texture and definition, the game as a whole marks a new standard in all around design and graphic capability. On this note one of the only other games to approach this level of design is Ninja Gaiden 2 and the upcoming Ninja Gaiden 3. The fluidity and natural ease of motion in these games is astounding, if exaggerated, and both are leading the way to a future where generated virtual reality is no longer a dream.
In addition to character modeling, environmental modeling in games has enjoyed many recent accomplishments. The Assassin’s Creed franchise along with Valve’s Half-Life and Half-Life 2 have set the bar high for accurate setting realism. In terms of fantasy and sci-fi Devil May Cry 4, Bayonetta and Crysis 2 all have astounding visual effects that are pushing the game industry towards realism that will make base reality indistinguishable from virtual reality. If empirical proof is needed to back up the claim that virtual reality in games will soon become indistinguishable from our current idea of base reality a gamer simply has to look at the Final Fantasy franchise over the past 20 odd years. From Final Fantasy III (1990) to Final Fantasy IX (2000) to Final Fantasy XIII (2010) the jumps in graphic realism are so immense as to almost be unbelievable. In the next ten years this trend will not only continue it will advance faster than in any previous years.
With this vision of the future comes many consequences and obstacles that society, and the individual, will have to take on respectively. If this shift to generated realism were to take place it would affect the worlds various cultures in different ways. For instance, in the United States if games were as real as base reality there would undoubtedly be a huge demand for such products, leading to a segment of the population being immersed in the game world for much of their waking hours. This would in effect create a subculture intent on dreaming away their lives in search of a custom made utopia, an escapist addiction with pandemic potential. With any new kind of cultural or societal split there is the danger of discrimination and prejudice, especially in this case. It is not so far fetched to imagine a segment of the population labeling these types of gamers ‘Dreamers‘ and discriminating against them. The question that will face our society is whether or not this shift will further fragment our culture or unite it.
In the near future the gaming industry will be able to provide a generated virtual experience on par with what has been described as our base reality. Games will no longer exist only to be past-times or time fillers, but will be another way of experiencing life. The outcome is uncertain, but there is one thing that is certain: society as a whole is going to have to decide who gets to control this new technology and what ‘acceptable’ uses it will legally have. The more pressing question will be whether it is better to live in the real world, or waste away in dreams.