Taking a peek at the current generation of video game consoles is like looking at the realized future of some science fiction novel from 30 years ago – it’s hard to believe we’re able to control something that looks so real. Video games have long been the perfect tool for escapism, providing an alternate reality for anyone who dares to adopt a new personality and hop into a virtual world. Looking at how impressive current games are, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before graphics rival objects in the real world. Will games eventually become “realer than reality?” What might be the consequences? And does that even make sense? Bear with me as I look at a few different things affecting and shaping the future of video gaming.
As anyone who has picked up a controller for either of the two graphical powerhouses of this current generation knows, video game graphics are steadily becoming a thing of beauty. With the cinematic envelope constantly pushed through games like Assassin’s Creed, BioShock and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, how much more realistic can these games get? It’s bad enough the water in Uncharted looks wetter and shinier than UCSB’s ocean on a clear day, but the developers just had to make the lead character’s clothes dampen according to how far he went into the water. Both of these things are nothing short of breathtaking, but it just leaves me wondering… what next?
Of course there’s nothing new, or inherently wrong, with pushing realism in video games. In fact, it’s been one of the biggest selling points for game consoles since the Atari age. The problem comes from the effect that increased realism has had on certain gaming communities as technology has become more advanced. Sure, mild forms of “video game addiction” have been reported over time, but nothing quite compares to the zeal many online gamers have for their hobby. From fans of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games to Halo enthusiasts, gaming’s newfound emphasis on authentic online human interaction brings its realness to a whole new level. Instead of bumping into banal townspeople and bumping off mindless enemies, online players are interacting with real humans who can think and talk on their own, making for a more complete, all-encompassing adventure that sucks players in faster than the ocean’s wake.
Developers need to be wary of pushing their limits in ways that might potentially backfire, either by making a game with so little substance its technological achievements seem meaningless, or by falling into the “uncanny valley.” The uncanny valley is a technical term for a human-like object teetering so close to reality that it’s creepy, and results in the uneasy feeling you get inside when watching movies like “The Polar Express” or “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” As developers continue to push boundaries and create a more life-like reality for gamers to immerse themselves in, will the uncanny valley rear its ugly head and make us all disgustingly uncomfortable? I wouldn’t be too surprised if it did.
Times just may be changing, however, as the Nintendo Wii has managed to become the most desired home console of all time with little more than an upgraded GameCube under its hood. Who knows how this will ultimately affect the gaming industry’s constant emphasis on power and progress in the long run, but I doubt it will slow gaming’s ascension to the best form of virtual reality next to a holodeck. With technology improving by the day, it’s only a matter of time until the next console is released that makes everyone rethink how real virtual worlds can get. After all, a little over a decade ago, Super Mario 64 was the most breathtaking thing many of us had ever seen. Now, it looks like a crude tech demo whipped up by an incompetent undergrad. In just a few short years, the next big thing will come around and blow our minds with its graphical prowess and interactive environments, leaving us to pick up the pieces and try and imagine what could possibly come next.
And when that day comes, I’ll probably still be drooling at the water.