April 8, 2008

Taking Immersion All The Way

When I was in the 8th grade, I had to present an "invention" as part of a BS homework project. Mine, naturally, had to do with games. I drew a sketch of VR goggles, an omnidirectional treadmill, and sensor-laden gloves and called it a next-next-gen console. I was pretty sure that I was pulling it all out of my ass, but it turns out to be surprisingly feasible, if not cost effective or satisfying in implementation.

Are we moving towards this sort of total immersion? Is the Holodeck our ultimate destination? The popularity of the Wii, the availability of affordable VR technology, and the ever-increasing realism of game graphics suggests so. And most gamers can't wait.

But this stuff has a way of being a lot lamer than we imagine it. Personally, the Wii controls were a letdown. I do like the final product, but the sensing would require mind-reading to be accurate enough to satisfy me. And earlier attempts (read: Virtual Boy, every other early VR system) were generally awful.

Plus, I worry that we misunderstand a lot of the fun in games. It's not all about realism. I play Wii Sports sometimes when a tennis court is within a short walk. I play Rock Band even though I have no interest in learning to play drums. And I really don't think that Call of Duty 4 needed to be any more intense than it was (in 20 years this will be embarrassing to read, I'm sure).

Total I/O immersion will probably be a ton of fun, but I find myself doubting that it can make everything better. Maybe the gamepad really is the best way to experience Super Smash Bros., or Halo 3, or Madden, eh?

1 comment:

Michou said...

If you buy into the escapist appeal of games - the idea that a [large?] of the 'appeal' of video games is their ability to be more interesting than our lives otherwise - then your comment on immersion is very important. Most of us who play games, while not fitting the 'couch potato' paradigm, are not in perfect physical condition, and I'm pretty sure that no-one can double jump. Gamers can become rock stars, Spartans, and (tentatively) God with the aid of games, and they need not actually have the qualities of personality, prowess, or omnipotence. The more 'realistic' immersion you demand, the more you require of a player, as well, so I think your point is well-founded. At least until we discover the crazy technology that allows us to put our minds into a virtual reality and inhibit a body that does have the required attributes...