Today’s Response: Where are games heading?

12 December, 2009

I’ve always thought of basing the growth of video games on the way the graphics look. Most of us grew up when games were just starting to define themselves. Computers improved at astronomical rates, and so did games. I suppose the reason I look at graphics as a reference is because most games have the same basic mechanics. The only elements that changed noticeably were graphics. After playing some recent games I thought that graphics don’t have much more room to improve. Physics can still improve, but they are already improving rapidly to keep up with graphics. I started wondering, will our kids ever worry about how games look? What will be the basis of our comparisons in the future?

There are several ways that the gaming industry can head. I want to focus more on two elements. One way could be studying the psychology of gamers, and changing the way that they relate to characters. The other is expanding games into the social interactions that people have outside of the traditional gaming environment.

Creating a character that players can relate to has been the goal of video games designers since the existence of video games. Well maybe not quite…but some games try. Heavy Rain for the PS3 is based on creating an emotional attachment between the characters and the player. This is an interesting take on games. Usually if someone dies they come back right away. The player doesn’t become quite as worried if the character is in a life-or-death situation. RPG’s have always tried to push the limits with emotional ties. Final Fantasy 7 has a sad moment where one of the characters actually dies and doesn’t come back for the rest of the game. These however seem only one-dimensional, or two at best. How about a character that plays the way that you feel as you play? I know a player controls the character, but what if something shocking just happens and the player wants revenge. Shouldn’t the character also want revenge? Shouldn’t the character act differently while in this altered emotional state? Maybe given extra strength, but not accurate movement. I think there needs to be an expansion on these emotional ties between the player and the character. Perhaps the best way is to make more emotionally flexible characters. Characters currently seem one minded. This character is the big tough one that busts a hole in any thing the looks at him the wrong way. Oh, a girl just hugged him? Punch a hole in the wall. Oh, he just found out who his father is? Punch a hole in the wall. Oh, an enemy just killed his best friend of 17 years? Punch a hole in the wall. I know this will take a lot of programming, and it will be almost impossible, but it would help in creating an emotional tie between players and characters.

Can the line between video games and reality become non-existant? Augmented reality seeks to bridge the gap between the two. ARhrrr is one game that can be played from a phone, where the player hovers over a map (placed on a table) and shoots virtual zombies. Objects can be placed on to the map and utilized in the game. People can mark actual objects, such as landmarks, and write a story about the location. A game could be played out in real life in real time. Suppose there was a mission to meet a virtual character at a certain location at a certain time, then the player actually has to travel to that place, say a mile away, and meet with the virtual character. Maybe players can place items in various real locations, hoping other players won’t find and steal those items. I can see it expanding very rapidly. I can also see it getting out of hand rather quickly. People already have enough trouble being distracted by texting, throwing video games into the mix might not help.

No matter what happens, I hope our kids, and our kid’s kids will grow up in a time where video games are still exploring the boundaries of technology and entertainment.

Note: There are many developers that have already started working on these two elements. I don’t want to demean the value of games by saying all players place their judgments entirely on graphics. That is not true, and a lot of games deserve more credit for their development in areas outside of graphics.

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