Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Real or Make Believe?

I spend a good amount of my timing gaming, as one might expect based on the posts I make.  But whenever I get really lost in a game, it reminds me of ‘The Illustrated Man’ by Ray Bradbury, and a short-story found within, called ‘The Veldt.  It is safe to say that I’ll be spoiling the ending of the short story. 

In the story, the main characters, the adults, are concerned after their children, who have fallen into some sort of fantasy world after the parents bought a virtual system that controls everything in the house.  The parents seek advice from a medical professional and he advises that they turn the system off immediately and leave the house for good.  As you may expect, once this news is broken to the children, they are less than pleased and convince their parents to stay just a little while longer.  When the parents go to investigate what is taking so long, they realise the children have turned the system on and have turned it into Africa.  The story comes full tilt when the parents realise that the strange noises they’ve been hearing are screams from people being killed by the virtual system in place, as the kids have activated it to have lions appearing and devouring anyone who passes through the virtual system except them.

An extreme example, I know, but it does beg the question, at what point are people so completely engaged in a game, or virtual world, that they can’t break away?  Recent legislation about video games seems to always trend towards curbing the most violent games away, but is that really what should be controlled?  I think you could argue that the 3DS and the evolution of 3D gaming could begin to bring the concept from the referenced short story to life.

As each new technological advance comes to the gaming world, new doors are opened and technology stretches the limits of what we can handle.  It started simply enough with a joystick and a fire button and has evolved to a controller that has a multitude of buttons and combinations of said buttons.  The boundaries continue to be challenged.  At first games were just displayed on regular TVs, now, games are designed for either hand-held devices or HD TVs, challenging the way the games are both designed and viewed.  It isn’t any wonder that people are finding themselves more and more likely to be pulled into a game and unable to turn it off.

How many times have you said, or overheard, the words, ‘I didn’t realise how late/early it was, I was so into my game.’  This is a by-product of the gaming industry creating games that are impossible to turn away from.  The gaming industry is embarking on another horizon, breaking free from 2D representations of games to 3D representations of games and continuing to forge forward.  But is there any responsibility for this?  Should there be parameters around how much further gaming should go?

Most creators never see a limit to anything they create, but an opportunity to expand, and a consequence of that is not having the foresight to stop, sometimes, and think about what effect this will have on those using your creation.  In the scope of video games, we all enjoy being a ‘different’ person and being able to do things that defy logic or physics, but most would also realise that those things can’t be done in the real world.  But as the next wall is broken, once games begin to be fully interactive, at what point does the gamer realise that he/she are in a game at all?

The point is illustrated much better in the short story by Ray Bradbury, and it is an extreme example, I agree, but that doesn’t mean it lacks merit.  Virtual gaming is on the horizon and even now my PS3, though not my XBOX 360 sometimes recommend that I take a break.  But if a gamer is so heavily involved in a game, would a passive warning really get their attention?  More and more I think that games are both amazing and dangerous.  It isn’t the content that worries me, but the detachment to reality.  The onus is truly on the responsible gamers and gaming companies to make the right choices, which may not always be either the most popular or profitable choices.

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