A reader imagines what video games will be like when gaming is twice as old as it is today, by comparing it to the evolution of cinema.
Yesterday I found myself thinking about the future of video games. I imagine that’s a common thing for gamers, especially with the next generation coming up, but rather than the next five years I started to wonder what things would be like in the next 47 years – when the industry is twice its current age.
At first I started by comparing games to cinema, which would be like going from 1915 to 1962. That takes you from Birth of a Nation (a vile film in terms of content but an undisputed landmark when it comes to cinematic technique) to the year Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. No were released. A lot obviously changed in that time but some films were still being made in black and white and if someone somehow time-travelled from 1915 to the ‘60s I don’t think they’d fine anything about the changes in cinema particularly shocking.
To make the comparison with video games the obvious place to start is 1972, which was the year of the release of Pong and the Magnavox Odyssey (the first ever home console). As with cinema, progress was relatively slow and it wasn’t until 1978 that Space Invaders was released, with the NES not arriving until 1983 (1986 in Europe) and the modern 3D era not until 1993 – some 21 years after after Pong. Up until then video games had showed a slow but predictable progression in terms of graphics, but 3D and CD-ROM storage was the equivalent of getting both colour and sound at the same time for cinema. It was a huge leap forward for games, with further massive improvement in the PlayStation 2 era, before you started to see progress slow down again during the Xbox 360 era and the current generation.
In 47 years you went from moving two squares around on a TV screen to games which are approaching genuine photorealism, and which may actually reach it in the next generation. So my question is how does that history lesson help us predict the next 50-odd years of games? Adding 47 years to 1962 takes cinema from the first James Bond film to Avatar in 2009 (these dates really are working out very helpfully to make my points, the only bit I planned was the starting years!). So you’ve gone from a time when practical effects were the only effects there were to the rebirth of 3D cinema and a film where almost everything is computer-generated.
Although to digress for a minute here it’s interesting that in terms of genre cinema both it and video games are essentially striving for the same thing: to create perfectly realistic visuals of things that don’t exist. But cinema, with all its money and no need for interactivity, has never quite got there and obviously games lag somewhat behind – although they often feel more real because of the sense of immersion. I’m not enough of a tech expert to know if and when photorealism will be possible, but it seems to me that it must happen, for cinema at least, in the next 10 to 20 years.
Although it’s hard to say because Avatar still has some of the best graphics ever seen, simply because of the amount of money spent on it and the unique talents involved. But let’s be bold and suggest that by 2030 photorealistic graphics will be possible for both cinema and games. So what then? When graphics are indistinguishable from real life what difference will that make? Well, in some ways I suspect not much. A shooter will still be a shooter and a lot of multiplayer games don’t particularly rely on graphics for their appeal anyway. Narrative games will be more effective, and so will horror, but they’ve always been niche genres and I’m not sure they won’t always stay that way.
For me the biggest change in games isn’t going to be the graphics, it’s going to be the controls and how you view them – and in turn how you interact with other people playing them. Modern controllers are a huge turn-off to non-gamers, as are complicated interfaces, and other necessary evils that we gamers take for granted. By 2030 I would hope that we have not only reliable, high resolution VR but also some kind of interface that breaks away from the DualShock model we’ve been using since the start of the PlayStation era.
There are already experiments now with devices that allow you to control electronics with your brain, so in another 20 years, and certainly by the full 47-year jump to 2066, I’d expect thought control to be an everyday thing. So at that point you’re in a virtual reality, you’re viewing photorealistic graphics, and you’re controlling everything by just thinking about it. It sounds like science fiction, but I really don’t think it’s farfetched at all. Not when you look at how far we’ve come already.
By that time cinema and video games may well have become one, and you’d just choose to have either linear or interactive experiences – with the ability to chat with people during either if you want. Social media will continue to evolve during all this, of course, and remember that Facebook own Oculus VR. Social media of the future will probably involve just thinking at people too, since I certainly can’t imagine still typing out messages on Twitter.
In the last decade or so we’ve seen many of the science fiction ideas of the 20th century become an everyday reality and I think that will eventually come to include some version of the Star Trek holodeck, except more convenient and more social. Although the one issue I’ve not addressed is artificial intelligence, since I have no idea how to predict when and how that will advance. Maybe by 2066 multiplayer will just be a niche and people will prefer to play with AI that’s guaranteed to give them the perfect challenge for their skill level. Or maybe the AI will have taken over control of the planet, for our own good, and video games is all we’ll do. Who knows, but if things evolve the way I’ve predicted then maybe that won’t be such a bad thing for all involved.