Video games are often thought of as a way to escape reality. A burning question in people’s minds, is when will that reality become no different from the one we already exist in?
Throughout popular media, the idea of an integrated virtual reality has been discussed, documented and played upon. As we dawn upon a new age of technology, VR’s popularity has soared to the point where you can head to your local store, pick up a headset, and embark on your own virtual journey. Life is full of unknowns, so what will happen when we stumble upon VR’s unknowns? Is it even possible in the future? It’s difficult to know for certain, but is perhaps something to be concerned about.
PLANNED OCCURRENCES VS. THE UNPLANNED
Quite recently, the playerbase of Elite:Dangerous discovered an alien species in an eerie encounter. In an expansive space simulator, these things are normally taken for granted. It was a two year journey of discovery for those searching for the little green men (who turned out to be not so little). But this type of encounter was something planned far in advance by the developers. There’s no doubt that there are huge efforts to include events that can shock and inspire people during video game development, but with advances in technology – and the growing interest in procedurally generated content – how long will it be until we see things that even the developers weren’t aware could happen?
We had a glimpse of this possibility with the release of No Man’s Sky. It’s expansive galaxy held potential for us to see things that we couldn’t even dream of. Needless to say, this particular title fell far short of expectations. It can be assumed that the formula for truly unprecedented experiences in videogames would be as follows;
Adaptive and intelligent AI + procedural generation + an evolving environment.
However this doesn’t feel like it could yield those unknown instances. Everything you see in a videogame is planned meticulously. The initial concept, design, art and implementing of elements in a game are all created by someone. Even procedural generation is currently built from a pool of assets, so is it really a random generation? Or just that sandwich combination you never thought of making with the ingredients available.
DO PEOPLE REALLY WANT THIS?
It’s almost scary to think that the future of videogames may involve truly integrating yourself into the game’s environment. What happens when this goes too far? VR offers us a way to fully immerse ourselves into a game. It can still be argued that it is in it’s infancy. Deep haptic feedback is the next step into putting yourself in the game. Feeling the weight and fatigue of using a weapon is something not everyone can experience. But with VR, it’s certainly a possibility. The only problem is, do people want that experience? Even further, we could ask, what will happen if this becomes the only experience? The alienation of players from certain aspects of games already runs rife with today’s popular titles. Can we expect this issue to spread once VR becomes the “standard” experience?
At what point would the AI overpower the player to the point that it’s not a challenge for the bot?
The problem with looking so far in advance at something like this, is that there is no answer to the question. We can’t even make an educated guess. It is all pure, unfounded speculation. It’s these hard questions however, that can inspire the most interesting discussions. I for one, am a player who looks forward to really throwing myself into the game. I’ve played many RPG’s, but I’m yet to feel the same thrill, or association of actually assuming the role of the character I am playing. I’ve never felt like I’m the hero. No amount of character customisation and vanity objects has really made me feel as if I am truly there. VR changes that. For a lot of people it will. But to take the next step, and make this experience feel “real”, we need games to also take on that deeper role. Games need their own experience, their own character, and own feelings.
CAN IT STILL BE ENJOYABLE?
Fans of such franchises as Dark Souls, will agree, that the struggle of a game is minute compared to the payoff of completing it. Games that aren’t challenging, usually aren’t fun. But when we start throwing unpredictability into the mix, the aspect of a challenge changes. True AI adversaries don’t create a challenge. They will turn the player into the challenge. As you play, it would learn from you. Exploit your weaknesses, lead you into scenarios that it believes it can win. The issue being, at what point would the AI overpower the player to the point that it’s not a challenge for the bot? You will literally cease to entertain the very game that was designed to be your plaything.
For some players, this would result in deep strategy, planning and a huge commitment to bettering themselves. However, I feel that the majority would be disheartened and dismayed to realise they simply aren’t good enough. Yet again, the playerbase is being fractured. The community will leave behind the weak in a Darwinian-esque movement. It’s an awful thought. Exclusivist attitudes are something I despise. So to think of them occurring in gaming? Not a pleasant future.
COULD RANDOM WORK IN THE FUTURE?
The potential of truly random occurrences is limitless. Imagine a game being produced with a plot, a questline, a villain. But within weeks everything changes. The game that you bought is remarkably different from the state it’s in now. You wish you could blame the developers. But no, the game did this. It learned from the players. It learned from itself. And now this is a story all about how, your world’s been flipped, turned upside down (sorry).
Yes, the potential is limitless, but perhaps should be limited. Humans still rely on reward systems. We’re a basic species. We crave familiarity; feeling comfort in knowing the consequences of our actions. The current model of videogames delivers that quite successfully. You go to point A, kill bad guy, go to point B, collect reward, repeat. So, despite random occurrences bringing us closer to life, maybe it shouldn’t. I believe it is certainly possible (technological advances withstanding), but videogames are very different from real life. That’s probably the way it should stay.
Heck, for all we know, the AI already controls the games, and is tricking us into feeling we’re safe in our bubble of familiarity. Soon an uprising of overpowered, vicious bots will consume human players. We thought we were in control. But, perhaps it’s too late.
It’s also probably too late to return this tinfoil hat I picked up. Stay safe out there humans.