Yesterday I mentioned that things like 3D gaming and motion controls are stepping stones towards the plateau that is currently a sort of holy grail for the industry: total game immersion. We’re still a ways off in terms of achieving anything near a total immersion factor; sure, we have certain games that employ more complex control schemes and things like VR helmets, but I don’t really doubt that it’s the goal of the entire business to eventually get us all into holodecks or The Matrix.
My question is whether or not it’s ultimately worth it.
As with portable gaming, I see there as being two ways that total immersion could possibly go, both of which I mentioned yesterday. The first is the holodeck route, where you enter a room, tell the computer to boot up Doom 19 or whatever the hell, and then have yourself a fun time wandering around blasting demons with a shotgun and wondering why the hell it’s 2111 and you still can’t duct tape a damn flashlight to your shotgun.
It sounds really appealing, because you’re not limited anymore. If you want to duck and peek around a corner then you do so, there’s no frustration because aside from your own physical limitations there’s really nothing that is impossible. But did you catch what I said there? Those two little innocuous words: “physical limitations” mean a whole lot more than what people give it credit for. I’ll admit, I’m not a guy that’s in what you’d call “good shape” unless you consider the male version of rubenesque to be a good shape, so for me there’d be a hard limit to how much running and gunning I could do. For the most part, success in these kinds of games would equate to how much physical capability you’ve got. In other words, games pretty much become sports. There might be mitigating factors, like a movement modification program that ensures that no matter what your actual pace is that everyone technically moves at the same speed in game, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the point?
If nothing else, these games would stop groups from complaining that kids aren’t getting enough exercise through playing, but at the same time you can pretty much kiss the platformer genre goodbye because no one is going to want to take the risk of someone breaking their spine after that triple jump to get to that final peak in Bowser’s Castle just didn’t go quite as planned. There’s just no way the logistics work, and while people will no doubt scramble for solutions, in the end it might prove to be too much effort for people to bother with. The thing is though that even a holodeck isn’t really the pinnacle of total immersion, although it is something that we stand a chance of getting within say, the next 10 to 50 years. But the truest depths of total immersion lie even beyond that.
I know earlier in the article I mentioned The Matrix, but that’s not quite a correct analogy for it either. What the total immersion experience would be would be akin to a lucid dream, a very directed lucid dream. A person could either play from the perspective of the character in cases of games like first person shooters or even driving games, or sort of watch along, being immersed in a world where they mentally control an avatar, sort of like being the cameraman in Super Mario World but being able to direct the eponymous plumber around. This kind of game would no doubt be the peak of the system, and would arguably be one of the more interesting experiences that a gamer that grew up staring at a tv or pc could actually have. Thing is it’s still probably a long ways off, and it’s not without risks, although again, nothing is.
People have already played themselves to death for the sake of grinding out the next level in whatever MMO has caught their current fancy, but think of how easy it would be to lose track of time when you are literally in the world, rather than just watching it through a medium. There’d have to be safeguards to make sure that, say, you don’t die if your house burns down because that copy of Morrowind 20 was just so damn enthralling. Some people would doubtless also call for hard limits on how long a game could be played at a time, but again that comes down more to personal responsibility than any truly inherent danger present in the system: if you’re going to be stupid and play a game for 48 straight hours while ignoring even the most basic of your needs then of course you’re going to suffer the consequences, even today where you’re still just staring at a screen all day.
The question is, after we reach this threshold, what happens next? We’ve already seen a trend towards wanting more realistic graphics at the cost of whimsicality, so if we do achieve total immersion will games like the Mario’s and Metroid’s disappear entirely? I certainly hope not, because just because we can make a near reality experience doesn’t mean that we still don’t want those colourful worlds at our beck and call in the future as well.