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The State of Gaming

Friday, August 19, 2016 7:00 AM

It makes me feel like an employee at Best Buy when I say this, but the future of gaming is happening right now. It may sound cliche but it's true. The future of gaming all comes down to how you like to experience or avoid reality and to what degree. Playing video games has always been about avoiding reality, whether you wanted to pretend you are a fat plumber in a racoon suit jumping over flying turtles or just wanted to feel what it was like to play as a quarterback in the NFL or hit a homerun in the MLB or become the acting GM of the Edmonton Oilers and find out how bad it felt to trade the real Taylor Hall when you trade videogame Taylor Hall. These games are about ignoring your own reality to some degree or another. As we rocket sled down the uncanny valley in this insane future of gaming we notice that the word ‚Äėreality' is still on the tongues of gamers and developers across the board.

As I'm writing this I feel somewhat surrounded by the future of gaming. It feels like the future has arrived in 2016 in a big way. At the beginning of this summer the Pokemon Go app took the world by storm. It uses something called Augmented Reality to make it look like there's a Pikachu on your lawn or a Charmander on your crotch or a Charizard in your coffee cup. You catch them in the video game but it feels like you did it in real life and it drove everyone nuts and still continues to, although maybe less fervent now, only a few months later. Just yesterday the game No Man's Sky finally arrived for the PS4. This is a game that uses something called 'procedural generation' to allow the computer program to basically create the game as you're playing it. It's been highly anticipated for years now and it's finally here and I haven't played it yet and I'm so excited!!! No Man's Sky is a game that I feel deals in hyper reality. There are over 18 QUINTILLION planets to explore in this game. A game that deals with the kind of numbers that usually only astrophysicists deal with is a very real kind of reality, and also one that is almost beyond human comprehension- but not human hyperbole. Finally there is VR- Virtual Reality. The Oculus Rift is already here and other VR headsets are available and some, like the Playstation offering is coming this Fall. Virtual Reality feels like the future of gaming that people have been dreaming of for decades. Maybe it was the holodeck from Star Trek that got you excited about it or movies like The Matrix or Vanilla Sky and now VR is finally here in a meaningful way and once you experience just a few seconds of what is out there right now you will have truly seen the future of gaming.

Let's take a closer look at the different kind of realities being offered:

Augmented Reality

It's almost too late for me to be writing about Pokemon Go. It really is/was a phenomenon. The majority of people playing the probably don't even know what augmented reality is, just like I didn't know what a pixel was when I first started playing Asteroids. Many people (myself included) probably don't even realize that they've been experiencing AR for years on their phones.

Dr. Evil air-quoting around Augmented Reality

Apps like Snapchat use AR for their dog face filters and Google's Translate app let's you hold your phone's camera over a foreign language sign and watch the screen turn your words into English right in front of your face. The almost crappy looking AR of Pokemon Go seems best suited for it to be found in phone apps but that doesn't mean it isn't a huge thing for app developers. The latest estimates are that the developers of Pokemon Go are making over $1 million a day on this game. The mechanics and technology behind AR feels almost quaint compared to what I'm about to talk about next but it's proving to be a huge money maker and that drives a lot of what's to come in games and apps for your phone.

Hyperreality

I just made up this term. It's not a real term. It just feels like this is the best way to explain a game like No Man's Sky. This is a game that deals with such real numbers that you literally cannot handle it. You also won't be able to even scratch the surface of what this game has to offer, and yet people could not be more excited to get the game and start exploring its 18 quintillion (18,000,000,000,000,000,000) planets.

No Man's Sky is an example of 'Hyperreality'.

People who are good at math explain that it would take somebody 584 billion years to explore all of these planets. How is that even possible? How could humans create this game? The simple answer is that humans don't really create the game. They (all four of them that make up Hello Games) create the code and the program to make a game like this possible. The game creates itself as players play the game and enter a universe so vast that they will probably never cross paths with another player. The game is in charge of creating its own gravity, ecology, animal life, minerals, pretty much everything and this is something that you can experience that has truly never been done before. All thanks to the mighty algorithm. If that isn't futuristic then I don't know what is.

Virtual Reality

This is the one that is the most convincing of them all. The real future of gaming. Sure, we will still play Candy Crush and all types of run and jump and first person shooter games until the sun burns out but VR is going to change the way people experience and design videogames in the future. It's already happening. VR is the hardest to explain to people and really needs to be experienced to truly feel how big of a shift this is for not just the gaming world but the home entertainment world.

A modern VR headset.

I was lucky enough to try out Oculus Rift last week and within a minute of having that VR headset on I could feel like I was truly inside a videogame. Like Mike Teavee from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he zaps himself inside the television. It's like that. Your eyes are the first to experience the change and it is very soon after that your brain is completely fooled by this new technology. You'll feel like you're on top of a mountain or in the middle of a forest or even looking right into the eyes of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You could be in a room the size of a closet and the VR headset could make you believe that you're in the hull of a ship or a fancy dining hall. Your eyes will believe the vastness of the area and then you'll feel it in your whole body. It's really quite something. And I haven't even got what it feels like to play an actual game yet. These are just the demos I'm talking about. Playstation plans to have about 50 games available between the launch of their VR headset in October and the end of the year. That's huge. The more games available the more people that are out there to potentially try out VR as a new gaming option and Playstation has over 40 million PS4 owners out there to convince.

Reality is the name of the game in the future of gaming. Whether you want to increase it, augment it, distort it, completely shut it off for an hour or two and crawl inside your television, or leave earth altogether to spend the rest of your life virtually exploring other galaxies it has never been more possible that it is right now and in the future of gaming it will be accessible to more people than ever before.

Jason Lee Norman

Jason Lee Norman

Jason Lee Norman is a writer with a beard. He is the 2014 Writer in Residence at the Edmonton Public Library. He is obsessed with keeping his iPhone over 75% charged.

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