The Future of Video Games

Video games are one of the newest and most popular forms of entertainment available today. It has shown itself to present a malleable concept that can appeal to people from all ages, all demographics, and all skill levels. Moreover, it has shown itself to be enjoyable, engaging, and challenging to many people. But perhaps the most exciting attribute of this emerging field is that it is emerging. Technological innovations can often be applied to change the face of video games, and what we think of when we hear “video game” is also constantly changing.

When we have something that is a growing part of a growing number of people’s lives, it is natural to ask “what’s next?”. We notice the past and the present, and we want to take it one step further. This speculation about the applications, innovations, and limitations of video games is what follows.

It is very likely that control systems for video games will become very sophisticated very fast. Given the current rate of innovation, we may have, for instance, gloves that sense precise movements of your hands and arms. But this is about as advanced as external control systems can get; to become more elaborate it is necessary to bring the control system one step further: from physical controls to mental controls.

There are currently devices that use electrodes to sense brain waves that can translate into some result on-screen. (See, for instance http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/tag/machine-brain-connections/ and http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/tag/machine-brain-connections/) It seems inevitable that video game companies will rush to develop this technology because physical controls can only offer a finite level of immersion.

Eventually, though, companies will have to merge control and feedback into a single virtual world. There will come a point when the video game experience nearly parallels that of the real world. When that does happen, I ask: “what do we need the real world for?”. In such a future age information and creativity will likely be worth more than muscle, and one could essentially live in such a world (and not have to worry about travel costs, being mugged, etc). This would have significant implications for how work gets done in the future.

Now lets backtrack through these main changes and examine what some other possible effects would be for each. Mind-controlled video games alone do not seem to revolutionize the concept like virtual-reality does and will probably create effects only within the video game industry. (Disagree? Post in the comments!) The development of more precise and realistic physical control interfaces, however, will result in hands-on training without actually being hands-on, such as practice for surgeons, soldiers, and anyone who needs to work with their hands. (A revolution in the way typing is taught, perhaps?)

We may summarize these changes by the following. As video games become more advanced (more sophisticated, more realistic, more immersive), their capability of simulating and extending the real world will result in many useful and creative applications. These changes culminate the creation of a virtual world matching the depth and complexity of the real one, and this final change perhaps has the greatest effects and applications of all.

Video games, however, will not reach this level of “full-blown virtual reality” very soon, and in the meantime video games will have many limitations. This is worth keeping in mind when advertisers claim that video games can lead to becoming an Einstein or an Armstrong.

Video games as learning has been billed as a revolution in education just as video games themselves are a revolution in entertainment. But video games are essentially just another medium for feedback; that is all they contribute to existing means of education. The result is that, while video games may be useful for motivating younger kids to do their homework or answer study questions, real learning and understanding must occur in the brain, and all the video games in the world cannot help that.

It is possible to severely limit the potential benefits and applications of video games by keeping in mind that they are, at heart, only a source of rapid visual/audible feedback. They cannot substitute for any slow, cumulative process, such as learning or inventing. Their application lies only in physical training, such as simulations for people who must perform precise physical tasks or people seeking to become more agile and fit.

If I am confident of one thing, it is that much of the preceding discussion is wrong. Innovation knows no bounds and will break them as it sees fit. Instead, what I have done is given my “interpolation” of past trends and the innate nature of video games to give a possible projection of the future of games. But, of course, this is only an outline of sorts and the real future, like a chaotic system, will begin to diverge rapidly in unexpected and even more interesting directions.

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