Even Better than the Real Thing

Occasionally something leaps out at me from my conversations with Twitter with the capacity to change thinking completely. Last night, @_thunderspank linked a trailer for the new PS4 game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, making extensive use of the Unreal 4 ‘engine’ which, for those of you who don’t do gaming, is a software framework in which it is possible to capture and create completely believable virtual versions of reality. This is a system used both by commercial companies and the military to run simulation tech. With the help of a combination of other specialist organisations, motion capture has finally become possible with the minimum of inconvenience to an actor. Sure, there’s a phenomenal amount of work to get to the stage where an individual can manipulate their virtual avatar, but the results… well, they’re amazing.

Viewing this trailer last night it was only at a minute in that I realised I wasn’t watching a real actress.

Things have come a long way from the early days of pixelated avatars: one only needs to look at Mario in his current incarnation to realise the differences and improvements that have been wrought by better processor power and higher resolutions. However, the consequences of this ‘format’ wielded by a true independent member of the game world could allow the door to open for more organic developments of the technology, possibly along unexpected lines. Certainly the game that allows you to play as yourself cannot be too far off, and with the current obsession with image that many people possess and flaunt on a daily basis online, the consequences of going down that path are enough to make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

However, I suspect the porn industry will be looking at this tech very closely indeed, because with the ability to create hyper realistic humans that can be controlled in real time? The future has to be VR Sex without a single Robot Woman in sight.

This is one of those moments where gaming is at a crossroads: a large proportion of the industry appears obsessed with esports and monetising the planet to exploit that, whilst others have a more theatrical and artistic vision of the future. I know which version I’d like to ascribe to, especially as the former appear to have only passing interest in diversity or anyone over the age of 30. Once someone has the common sense to float a ‘Senior’s esports league, or actively encourages women to take part? Then I’ll listen. For now, the future for me will be gaming where I’m the one who dictates the action. This then raises the question of whether I’d even want an adventure where I was able to be myself.

In retrospect, I don’t find any enjoyment in simulations of reality. What really drives interest and longevity for me is the ability to be someone else, or something… in fact, anything EXCEPT what I am. Virtual reality will require an investment from the user in the exact same way any normal game would hope for. The longer you are prepared to invest in a virtual world, the more likely you are not only to succeed within it but get an equal amount of enjoyment in return. Hyper-realism is great, to a point. Like most concepts, it will very much rely on the quality of material provided by developers in order to produce an engaging product.

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My favoured escape is about to launch its latest round of online content next week. One upon a time this would be enough to have me excited, but now there is simply a quiet acceptance of time passing, and the ideals I signed up for effectively becoming insignificant. As long as I remain able to enjoy myself, I’ll keep playing. As to what will drive people to play and spend money in the future?

I can pretty much guarantee I won’t be the target audience.