Thursday, November 24, 2005

How to say what is so

With Xbox 360 released to the world earlier this week (and to me on "any other day", not to be timed with US Thanksgiving), people are again being oohed and ahhed by the realism that this machine (and others) can create. Looking at the graphics in racing games like Project Gotham 3 or GT4 or GT3 (on PS2), it is certainly amazing what they can do, but it raises the question yet again - How do we identify the simulacra from the mundane? For some games this may be easier than others. For instance, if you are playing the '08 version of your favourite EA or 2K Sports game, the player models will be getting pretty real (that is what we all said in '94 as well), but the difference is still noticeable on one level, you are in control of the players from a third person perspective. So games that use 3rd person will likely continue to be easy to differentiate as the interactivity is seen by the user in a somewhat obvious manner. But what about first person? Looking at those driving games again, things get a bit dodgy. The graphics are so very similar to reality that it would seem that you are really driving. I've noticed this myself - after getting sucked into Burn Out, I caught myself thinking about the game while driving down the street. The thing that pulled me out was not seeing the familiar game tracks buzzing by and no heads up display to tell me about my "boost". But this is a game where you are out to do things that are more fictional, what happens in the realistic simulators? Sure the controls are obviously different, but for many, even the controls become second nature as they get sucked into the game (I forgot the psychological/cognitive term - dissonance?) and they are unable to separate the actions in the game to the actions in a real car. This is not really a bad thing, as the goals of both are generally the same - get to where to are going, avoid traffic and don't crash. I see a problem here however - we didn't need these new games and their high definition graphics to provide this means of escape. Games have been doing this for a long time, likely for as long as they have been played and someone has thought that they are in some manner approaching reality. This is where the trouble begins. It's very easy to get sucked into the game and once there, the controls are second nature as the response to any control inputs act as they would in the real world. Regardless if the action is pushing the gas, or firing a trigger. If this is the case, how do we teach the young ones what is real and what is not. We can't just say that if it's on the screen it's not real - it may work for a while, and it's certainly a start, but there needs to be something else. After all, I've even taught myself thinking about a game world while driving (and my brother has admitted to thinking about Halo while going about his day). I don't think we'll ever find the solution to this problem in the games themselves. The games are going to continue to get more real because that is what we as a collective want them to do and that is the challenge the creators have given themselves. A solution may be in the way that we deal with the real world. In the game, you are often the solitary individual, so to tell the difference between the real and the simulacra can there be a touch? Some would say that when they are sucked in, it can seem to be, but not really. A first person hug doesn't quite look real yet, and in the third person, it's a movie so that should make it easier. Granted there are games such as MMORPGs that take normal, well adjusted people and make zombies out of them. In those worlds, there is no touch, but many of the other things that these individuals are seeking exist (companionship, challenge, ability). So this suggests that you need touch and companionship, challenge and ability. Unfortunately for some, they are not able bodied, so these games allow them to escape their bonds, but that being said, there are still many ways that these people are abled. Companionship and challenge are however more universal. To help children tell the difference between real and not real, I don't think we have to be able to point to the not real and say that is not real. We have to have the child understand that on their own. Solid relationships and challenges outside of the game world will go a long way to helping kids understand this difference. They will still get sucked into the game, but they will (hopefully) be able to pull out as well. We must also understand that we cannot "save" every child, there are some that will become addicted, others that will act out, but that is not any different from any other generation. In the end, we can "say it ain't so" by making sure that we as a society, community or family are able to give to children and others what they are finding in the games if we are worried. It won't be easy for some, but in my naive view (not having kids and being a gamer), I don't think it would be that hard either. It'll be a challenge, to be worked on together with others. Technorati Tags: , , ,