by Benjamin Fitzgerald
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
– William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Growing up in the 90s, I remember hearing talk of creating virtual reality. The hurdles inherent in such an undertaking proved too difficult for the technology of the time, but the vision never went away. The dragon has reared its head, and the first VR headsets are scheduled for release later this year (in time, I suspect, for some killer deals on Black Friday).
It remains to be seen whether or not virtual reality technology as yet developed will truly provide an immersive experience – the frame rate required to pull it off is extreme. Regardless of whether this new technology succeeds or not, my interest is otherwise piqued elsewhere. How will the impending advent of virtual reality change the landscape of interactive gaming?
I am rather divided over these new developments. On the one hand, the ability to explore fully realized three-dimensional environments is an appealing thought. If you have ever played Myst or Riven, you were probably mesmerized by the beautifully crafted worlds. The thought of being truly immersed in such an exotic world through virtual reality technology makes me reach for my soda to stop my mouth from watering.
While I suspect that Myst-like worlds with more-or-less limited character interaction are going to comprise the bulk of VR experiences in the near future, let’s turn the page and examine the other side of the issue. Consider the evolution of combat-oriented video games. Twenty years ago, the silly blood animations in Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos was about as graphic as it got. Most of Diablo’s gory elements came from pre-rendered environments rather than any sprite-based interaction. The same holds true of Harlan Ellison’s cult-classic point-and-click horror adventure I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.
Flash-forward a decade, where Gears of War set new standards for interactive, gory maiming and dismembering. While disturbing enough on its own, it seems probable that the progression of immersive virtual experiences will advance to encompass a new generation of war-based video games where the player is almost a literal participant in his own violent, bloody campaigns.
While I am not necessarily against depictions of blood and gore where artistically appropriate to the story (and no, I’m not talking about God of War), is virtual reality violence really something to be desired? The Call of Duty games are already used by the United States military as a tool to desensitize soldiers-in-training to the violence and death of war. Imagine a world where technology allows the gamer to virtually experience the “thrill” of combat in a fully realized, three-dimensional, open-ended world. The thought is horrifying – a personal coliseum in your own bedroom.
While I am excited about the new worlds that could be opened up through virtual reality, I am also wearisome. Captain Kirk once said, “Death. Destruction. Disease. Horror. That’s what war is all about. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided.” Unfortunately, not everyone shares James Kirk’s idealism.