Technology Will Change Nothing (except more immersion)

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A current theory that describes our technological process is Moore’s Law; the number of transistors existing in computer processors will double approximately every year. Its effects are obvious: computers and their parts are becoming faster and more powerful for the same price over time. Processors are a part of every electrical device in our world, including the gaming consoles, controllers, televisions, even advanced sound systems. Today, the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 are packed with technological components that outperform NASA’s computers from the 1960s.
As the gaming industry looks for new ways to surround players in a virtual space and immerse them into a fictional reality, new technological accessories will become available to the public. Plenty of new tools are being researched, innovated, and developed today (mostly by companies and the military) to allow the users to accomplish more tasks, increasing efficiency and productivity. Eventually, as technology becomes cheaper every year, these professional office tools will become household toys for use with gaming systems. The players in the future will be more in tune with the machines than ever before by using tools that would stimulate as many senses as possible. Players might wear a special suit in a large room specifically designed for gaming, for instance. A decade from now, a player will be able to experience a virtual world in such detail that he/she loses a grasp on physical reality. However, it will not affect gaming as an expensive, isolationist and gender-neutral activity.
The current gamer requires several ingredients before he/she is able to enjoy a video game: the console with a game and controller, a television, and enough space to allow for movement and relaxation positions. This is summed up by society’s semi-universal image of a living room: a couch about ten feet away from a wall-mounted flatscreen television, with a small coffee table in the middle. The player holds a wireless controller that vibrates every now and then, and hears sounds from the virtual world coming from the television speakers. Technology allows for gamers to experience the virtual space by relying on their eyes, ears the second, and hands the least. A bigger, more colorful screen and a dynamic-range speaker system can allow for higher quality sights and sounds to resonate within the player’s mind. Movement as a new tool for input is a new idea that has limited uses, further keeping the player from experiencing a machine-generated reality. However, smells and tastes can’t be processed, and only a limited sense of touch is being communicated to the player during today’s game.
In 2006, the consumer magazine Popular Science published an article about a piece of machinery that would produce smells when triggered by a computer, allowing for users to smell a particular scent when navigating a computer generated space. In “The Smell of War,” James Vlahos goes on to describe how the second-generation prototype smell collar allowed him to grasp an army simulation with a different level of detail and immersion than with other simulators without the smells. Today, while a smell collar isn’t being sold commercially, it isn’t hard to believe that such a device is in use throughout the training camps today. It is a piece of technology that could be implemented in video games to play upon a gamer’s nose to give more information about the virtual space.
Recently, Google has started work on a project that would allow for a heads-up display in real life. Code-named “Google Glass,” a promotional video shows that a small eyeglass apparatus would link the user to both the GPS the Internet, allowing for realtime news streams, navigational information, and social updates. While it doesn’t show an ability to map its data over the real life terrain, other products do. Augmented reality programs and simulations are being developed and shown off by plenty of dedicated programmers, college students, and other non-commercial groups. While a computer-generated spider crawling around a real desk may not be considered as high-tech, it shows the potential of how a virtual world can be created in realtime.
These last tools are used to stimulate the human’s inputs. In order to immerse with the world, the player must experience with all his senses, but also to interact and change the virtual space with more methods than just a controller stick movement and a button press. However, engineers are finding ways to incorporate other inputs to games. The Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect are the latest innovations that will allow for motion and sound to command the game character and environments. The Wii is a pioneer for motion input – Metroid Prime 3: Corruption implemented an excellent idea of using the Wiimote to aim the onscreen gun. While it wasn’t able to fully immerse me into the virtual space, I felt a sense of control that was nonexistent in Halo: Reach, one of today’s most popular and graphically advanced games. The Xbox Kinect allows for motion input, but also a voice input. I watched a friend play Mass Effect 2 and use his voice to command his game-controlled squadmates. By aiming his gun at a target and speaking “Garrus, shotgun” out loud, the support character Garrus would attack the target with a shotgun, whether he was on screen or not. The voice commands were very specific, so my conversation over the game wasn’t disrupting his gameplay. It allowed for an advanced level of control than standard gaming today, and could possibly allow for full conversations with computer-controlled characters tomorrow.
Using these examples, futuristic gaming would have a very different setup and implementation than today. Instead of a TV and a console, a gamer might need a room with a full screen on each wall, a scent machine, hidden speakers in the wall (which are available today), and glass floors and ceilings with projections of the game world on each. Instead of a game controller with a weak vibrator, the player would wear a suit with several vibrators with would go off depending on where the player got shot. The eyepiece would display diegetic information, while the walls paint the spatial representation of the virtual space. An earpiece would provide character dialog that would respond to the player’s actions. Each component would have small computer processors that would be cheap and powerful enough to handle realtime monitoring of the gamer’s movements, body positioning, even cranial activity, and respond by updating the entire virtual space, sound, scent, and feel in less than a 60th of a second. In ten years, gaming will be akin to the Parlour Rooms described by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451.
Within Bradbury’s book, characters spend too much time in these Parlours, escaping from reality so often that they rarely interact with other humans in a truly social manner. Future gamers would also have that problem, wanting to immerse themselves in the virtual world frequently and in an obsessive manner to a point where the player would lose his grip on the physical space around him, and go insane. This has happened multiple times: the kids who played too much Dungeons and Dragons in the 80’s, the murderer who learned from Manhunt, and lately, the people who left the 3D movie Avatar feeling depressed because the virtual hyper-reality made the real world look dreary and boring. While technology allowed for greater levels of immersion into alternate realities, only a small amount of people immerse themselves to an extent that they go insane. It is a human personality trait, and it will not change a decade from now.
Nor will the isolation and social behaviors that gamers deal with. Today, games provide for singleplayer campaigns and multiplayer competitions, as well as sandboxes and other game types. Players have the choice to either play alone in a room to themselves, or to share a co-op mission in the same space, or to even play with others online. The future will merely make the physical game space larger, as opposed to totally isolating gamers from society. The isolationist persona will enjoy the space to themselves, while the socially active players will either share the large space with others, or continue to link with others with electronic in-game communication.
However, technology wouldn’t change gaming as a activity in society. While the consoles we have today are roughly two hundred dollars, the gaming gear for the future will cost around the same price – a quarter of a rent or a mortgage payment. Players would have a room to themselves to interact with non-real characters and enemies, keeping the isolationist behaviors we see today alive in the future. Society would still view gaming as a hobby that more than half of the population enjoy. People will build these rooms to serve as both advanced gaming rigs and as theatres. A cinematic experience that worked to stimulate all human senses would be developed first, and quickly adopted to a game system that would work to alter a storyline in real time.

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