computers, games, computer games, and the future

Humans play, explore, learn/teach, create, bond with other individuals, become part of a social structure. Computers help us play and are becoming the primary distributor of entertainment. It has changes what we mean by playing and what we expect from our entertainment. We are learning differently and trying different teaching techniques because of the availability of computers and internet and the related availability of information on demand. We are using computer as a tool to create art. We are interacting (or sometimes not) with others – even those close to us – in different ways. Though initially it allowed long distance relationships to feel closer, now some physically close relationships feel far apart. The social structure is broader now but maybe weaker.

Humans live life. Computers are part of all aspects of our life. Sherry Turkle’s essay published in 1984 was full of possibilities while later in life she has become more concerned about the price we unknowingly pay. Her conclusions seem to be based on anecdotal evidence gathered through interviews so one is left wondering if these conclusions have wide applicability. Computer has morphed from being just a office tool, to becoming a house work tool, to providing household utility to becoming an irreplaceable part of our life – personal, official, social.

The 1984 essay (part of The Second Self) is on computer games and its holding power. Again lots of generalizations some I agree while some felt a bit stretched. One that I agree with is that games are not mindless (are they mindful – I guess that depends on the player). The world of computers and associated games has changed since 1984. Computer power – specifically computer graphics processing power – has grown exponentially. The realism that one can ‘code’ into the virtual games keeps on increasing. So you can be part of a fantasy world of orcs and elves with the rendition being so life like that you are able to immerse yourself into a ‘real’ fantasy world. Games allow you to control that fantasy world unlike movies where you are a passive observer (I found it strange how many of the writers in the past talked about giving control of the story/movie to the reader/watcher via discrete forks in the story – now you can control the story in a continuum).

Internet connection and speeds have grown exponentially as well. We now have MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Now you can immerse in a fantasy world or historic world with your real friends or form new real virtual friendships.You and your friends can be a unit which stormed Normandy beach – what better way to experience history (it obviously depends on whether you are mindless or mindful).

Mobile computing has changed the concept of computer gaming. You can now play anytime – anywhere. This has led to a growing concern about the addictiveness of these games and the wasted time (similar to earlier concerns with computer games – though there are probably redeeming factors now as well). Currently, these games are not as realistic as PC/consoles games but it is only a matter of time – my phone has more power and better resolution as compared to computers from just a decade back.

Finally motion controllers and virtual reality is now becoming a reality. We can now play games by moving ourselves rather than typing or mousing. It is fun to be able to box or balance or toss a ring or shoot a bullet just by making actions similar to what we would do in real life. The technology for managing our view based on face position is still quite expensive and seems cumbersome but low cost game oriented technology should be around the corner. The final piece of the puzzle is sensory feedback which may take a while. If and when we have neural feedback we can join a Matrix of our choosing! I hope to be part of the future!!

That future will be judged by some to better while some may rue the loss of the present – all that matters to me that it will be different and change is never dull.