MetalFRO's Blog

Posted on Aug 7th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Video Games, gaming, future technology, VR

In the early 90's, when I was a kid, the year 2020 seemed like a far off future that I couldn't imagine. And yet, as an adult, it's here, and it's nothing like I imagined. Where are the flying cars that 1950's and 1960's futurist books promised me? Why is there no space colony on Mars? Why don't we have transporter technology, or replicators from the Star Trek universe yet? Okay, so maybe that last bit is still a couple centuries away, but certainly, the future I saw as a kid is nowhere to be found. Rather, 2020 will probably go down in history as a supreme dumpster fire of a year for more reasons than I care to list.

Instead of focusing on the negativity that has permeated this entire year so far, I thought instead, I'd look to the future, in a roundabout manner, by looking to the past. It's always interesting to see what forward-thinking technologies are invented, marketed, and flop, simply because they're ahead of their time, or people just aren't ready to adopt them yet. By contrast, it's also interesting to think about what the entertainment sphere predicts of the future. Those of us old enough to remember the context of Back to the Future Part II, in particular the scene that sees Marty bragging to a couple young kids that he's pretty good at the Wild Gunman arcade game, will appreciate the irony. In the scene, the kids are seen plugging in an arcade machine, with one exclaiming, "My dad told me about these!" When they couldn't figure out how to play it, Marty McFly picks up the six-shooter light gun and fires away at the screen, only to be told by the kids that having to use your hands was, "like a baby's toy!" Little did the creators of the film realize that the Xbox Kinect peripheral would be a thing in the year 2015, much like they envisioned.

How many of these will be relegated to landfills in the next 20 years?

But what other future innovations have been predicted, and even iterated upon, in the past? The most obvious example is that of VR. Certainly, VR technology has been tried in video games over the last 30 years, mostly unsuccessfully, though the tech is finally reaching the point where it's beginning to actually produce experiences that deliver on the promise of what VR is supposed to be, even if it still doesn't feel fully realized yet. Most of us are aware of things like Sega's short-lived VR pipe dream (see the image at the top of the article), or Nintendo's ill-fated Virtual Boy. But VR was such a "future tech" kind of idea in the 90's, that a number of movies capitalized on some kind of virtual reality as a major plot device. Lawnmower Man had many sequences set in a scary, virtual world. Johnny Mnemonic saw Keanu Reeves taking on the role of a data courier, transporting data around in his brain to download later at a drop point. He got the chance to keep some of that data later on, when he learned Kung Fu, and other various skills, when he starred as a hacker in The Matrix, which largely existed in a virtual realm. And "VR as a drug" was an interesting idea explored in the criminally underrated Strange Days from 1995, which explored the addictive qualities of technology. Little did the 90's zeitgeist know that VR technology wouldn't actually be viable until 20 years later, let alone being just a short distance beyond the neophyte stage the technology seemed to be in forever, until technologies like the Oculus headset, and later, PlayStation VR, began to actually have some marketability.

Another interesting tech that saw early uses a decade ago (or so) is Augmented Reality. The PSP game InviZimals took the Pokémon concept to the next level in some ways, by utilizing a camera attachment to allow you to spot the animals in the real world, so you can capture them. Just a few short years later, thousands of people were doing just that with Pokémon GO, using the camera and GPS technology in their smartphones to track, spot, and capture Pokémon in their neighborhoods. AR hasn't caught on at the same level as VR has, but based on the success of things like the aforementioned "collectathon" games, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that such things will continue to be iterated upon. While Google Glass might not have caught on yet, as smartphone cameras improve, there will undoubtedly be more mobile games that take advantage of the tech.

Video game makers have been trying to get us to get off our butts and exercise,
as far back as the early 90's, with the Exertainment Bike for the Super Nintendo.

Another technology integration that has been a long time coming is that of integrating movement and exercise within video games. I remember playing the Nintendo World Class Track Meet game (yes, that game also known as Stadium Events) with a friend, and always getting quite a workout while doing so. Video games have continued to encourage us to get active over the years, but not until the Wii Fit balance board has it really taken off. The Nintendo 3DS had the "StreetPass" feature, allowing you to connect with other owners of a 3DS, but you have to go out and find others to get close enough to activate it, which often meant walking around with your 3DS. The Just Dance series has been around for just over a decade now, and doesn't appear to be slowing down. The Guitar Hero and Rock Band games might be a bit less active, but are still often played standing up, versus sitting, and as you get into the music, you may find yourself moving around quite a bit. And Nintendo's latest foray into "active gaming" is Ring Fit Adventure, which seems to have received relatively good reviews, and is generally well regarded. I can see more attempts by game makers to continue to encourage players to get, and stay, as active as possible.

The last trend we seem to be seeing is that of the death of physical media. Movies and TV haven't quite predicted this one yet, at least not as far as I'm aware. As a kid, I remember seeing cartoons with plot lines involving some kind of information espionage, and there's always a computer disk or video tape that has been stolen. As CDs and DVDs became the standard, we saw this shift to just miniature spinning optical discs, predicting that we'd be able to pack more data on smaller disks. Now that portable flash storage is common, we're finally beginning to see a shift in entertainment toward "the cloud" for these kinds of things, but it's taken some time for this to finally catch up. It will be interesting to see how this shifts in the future, if physical media actually does become a casualty of cost containment within the gaming industry, or if niche companies like Limited Run Games continue to wave the flag, and keep a segment of that alive. I'm a big fan of having the product in my hands, so while I lament the move toward a non-physical future, I understand this direction, and why it's attractive for publishers, and some consumers. What I'm wondering is, will there be a future where we do away with physical media, only to come back around to it again, when/if we find out that everything being ephemeral means the experiences become devalued, and consumers begin to lose interest? Only time will tell.

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