Video games are more realistic now than they’ve ever been. One look at graphics from Halo 4 or Battlefield 4 will tell you that; the environments are more detailed than ever, and the engines in modern games can replicate real-world physics to a T. With all this realism, however, are we reaching a point where games will get so realistic that we won’t want to play them anymore? Will Battlefield 8 be so realistic that it’s not a game used for recreation, rather it’s a training tool for the military? (At this bi-annual rate, BF 8 would come out in 8 years, so possibly on a next-next-gen system.) Will it be so realistic that veterans can’t play it because it greatly exaggerates PTSD or other illnesses? The question is: how real is too real?
Let’s start by asking this “simpler” question: why do we play video games? Many answers would include, “for fun,” “to escape reality,” and “because I like *certain aspect of said game*.” The majority of gamers play for these reasons, which all revolve, to an extent, an escape of sorts. The fun in games can’t be replicated in the real world, due to superpowers, inventions, and other aspects of gaming. But at the same time, don’t we play these same games because of a parallel sense of realism? Take Halo 4, for example. The environments are detailed, the physics are good, but the aliens are completely unrealistic; it’s an oxymoron, yet we play it for a combination of the realism and non-realism.
Or, take Battlefield 3 or 4: the realism abounds in the destructible environments, lighting and shadowing powers, and realistic gameplay based on bullet drop and other factors. On the other hand, the non-realism evident is not because of any unachievable goale (i.e. contact with an alien race) but because 99.999% of us won’t ever have the chance to fly a jet into a battle, evade enemies left and right with barrel rolls, and unleash havoc on the enemies. Even fewer would survive such a stunt. My point is that the realism of the details and physics are parallel to the non-realism of our personal inabilities; most of us aren’t going to war in that manner anytime soon.
So, we play games for the thrill of the things we can’t do in reality. I’ve got to take a few lines from Tryhardninja here: “Eat Mario Mushrooms to grow tall; finally dunk that basketball. Leap off a mountain and free-fall; no big deal, ’cause I can respawn. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if life were like video games?” I think those lines (and the whole song, really) are the pinnacle of why we play games; to do the out-of-the-ordinary things that we can’t do in reality. So, do we really want games to become so much more realistic?
I’d like to say either yes or no, but the answer, for me, is a little of both. Yes, we want games to advance in a way that brings the experience to the point that it’s what it would really be like if we could do it in reality. On the other hand, we want to keep the non-realism that keeps these things from ever really happening, even if it looks like it could. How can this be achieved?
Well, I previously talked about voice recognition as a way to envelop gamers even more. Imagine if you could communicate with AIs simply through actual speech. Imagine how realistic a game would be if you could actually forge real relationships and communicate with the virtual characters. What if an Oculus Rift-like device could make the environment pop even more; if it would really feel and look and sound like we’re traversing through a pristine jungle environment. This would make the game so intensely realistic. As it is, take a look at this picture in the link: look at how realistic animation already is; imagine what it will be years from now: http://www.livbit.com/article/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/crysis-reallife-big.jpg. Animation is already pretty realistic, isn’t it?
Then, it brings us back to the topic question: how realistic is too realistic? If a game gets to the point that an overwhelming number of gamers find themselves as attached to it as the real world, then we’re going too far. Imagine how terrible it would be if we were truly enveloped in a world that was more appealing than reality, and no, the obsession of those who play games today doesn’t even come close to what I’m thinking the future could be like. If we form better relationships in the virtual world than in reality, we’ve gone too far; if we connect with AIs more than humans, we’ve gone too far. Most definitely, if we see them as love interests, we’ve gone WAY too far. If we reach the point where veterans can’t dare look at a military shooter, we’ve gone too far.
Do you see where I’m going with this? If games ever reach the point where they’re evoking more emotions (and on a larger scale) than reality, we’ve crossed a line. This is why the realism needs to be coupled with non-realism; it keeps us from truly being enveloped by the virtual environment. For this reason, I think we’re going to eventually reach a very troublesome point in gaming someday in the future. I can’t say whether it’ll be within a decade, or within half a century, but we will reach a point where we cross that line.
Think about it; inventions and advancements always continue to advance until they cross “that line.” Look at what industry has done to the environment and our resources. Look at how war has evolved. Look at how cars have become safer, yet more deadly, or at how fast food chains expand and contribute to obesity (although I’m not blaming them). Gaming will get to the point where it becomes so real that it snaps; it’ll be catastrophic for gamers.
Of course, games in the vein of Saints Row and LittleBigPlanet or Mario will be fine; we’ll be able to tell the difference between these games and reality, unless we develop the ability to become giants from eating mushrooms, or little burlap sack dudes are running around everywhere. Games with distinctive art styles, gameplay styles, and genres will be safe from crossing “that line.” However, the mega-popular “look-at-me-I’m-realistic” games will cross that line. GTA 9 might actually teach everyone how to hijack any vehicle they want. Battlefield 8 may actually give gamers PTSD (think about THAT one) and Call of Duty 20 might have not only fish, but also oceanic mammals swim away from you… and they’ll introduce cats!
Okay, that last one was totally off the map, but I had to do it.
My point is that the games striving for realism, such as most popular military shooters, will cross the line where games become too realistic for their own good, and that will be terrible for the gaming industry, and possibly for the world as we know it. Of course, I’m looking at the worst case scenario; what might happen if technology advances like I think it might, although we see how well those ideas worked out in the past. We still don’t have time-traveling DeLoreans, and we haven’t colonized Mars, so we might not have these super realistic games for centuries.
Am I just overthinking it? Do you think games will ever reach the point where they become too powerful for their own good? Let me know what you think about this; I’m genuinely intrigued by this topic!
Please note that I’m having my wisdom teeth extracted tomorrow, so I won’t be actively posting comments or articles for a couple days, although I’m setting up another article to auto-post on Saturday, assuming it works like I want it to. 🙂
Finally, I want to give a big THANK YOU to all who have read this blog; I passed the 1,000 view mark yesterday. It’s not a lot, I guess, but it means more than you know to me. Thanks so much for your support! Let’s celebrate with a Grunt Pinata!