Please excuse the incoherence of this entry. I’m on a lot of prescription drugs right now due to something turning off my equilibrium. But this is very important to all you hardcore video gamers out there, and you guys must hear about this.
There has been a buzz going on in the game development side of the industry that James Cameron’s production methods on Avatar, not the film itself but how he went about producing it, may be the first true step in Augmented Reality Gaming (ARG). This isn’t the same thing as Virtual Reality, where a player is dropped into a constructed computer environment. ARGs are games that use existing and non-existing elements in the physical world to create game play of some kind.
Still not following me? Check out the video below starting at about the 05:00 mark on the timeline.
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is the virtual camera Cameron was using! As explained in the video, he was able to point the camera at the actors and see a rough rendering of their performance to get an idea of what it may look like in the final cut of the film. He used the same camera when blocking shots for the various aerial scenes such as the flight of the Banshees and the military’s approach to The Tree of Life. The gaming industry is rumored to be looking into this technology to produce the ultimate ARG experience. As it stands right now, the technology is very primitive. You can take your iPhone, for example, and aim it at a deck of cards that will trigger a game of sorts where you have to prevent monsters from getting to a specific area on the screen by rearranging the cards in real life. Think The Spiderwick Chronicles Seeing Stone thing if Apple bought the rights to engineer it. The upcoming theme park attraction The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is already doing something similar with their souvenir map that guests will be able to take home.
If you haven’t pieced the two of them together, allow me to help you out.
The ultimate goal here is to create a gaming experience that only requires one thing. A pair of glasses. Players would be given a special pair of glasses, very similar to those you get when you watch a 3D movie, that would change certain elements in the environment to suit whatever game they are playing. For example, (and this is a bad one) if you play World of Warcraft and have one of these glasses, you would not see your friends who play the game as they look like in real life. You would see their WoW avatar instead walking around and interacting in the same place you are in. Something as simple as a wooden box would change into a save point. A blank book that you pick up would be changed into one with clues about your next quest. And so on!
For now, this kind of technology can only be produced in a closed and controlled environment, such as the warehouse where Cameron did all his motion capture. Which is where I believe this kind of game play is best suited for. The bad news is that a developer may go crazy with this technology and create a game that can be played outside of a warehouse, utilizing things like public wi-fi connections to cross promote the game with, say, McDonald’s or Starbucks. Can you imagine just how fucked up that would be seeing someone playing a ARG in a fast food restaurant?!
Now there are some practical applications to this idea should it actually get off the ground in the gaming industry. You have LARP groups who are essentially doing the same thing, but with most of their money going towards designing their costumes and constructing their foam swords. ARG technology could essentially eliminate that, making it cheaper for them to meet up and still have fun beating each other over the head with a foam sword. Oh, sure, they’ll still get the odd stares from people that see them and are wondering what the fuck they are doing, but how is that any different than people stopping and staring at me when I used to play Dance Dance Revolution?
Ah, fuck it. I know the answer to that question, so I might as well say it. The reason why that would look more odd is because you have people in their normal clothing doing abnormal things. A player may see a rare item through their ARG glasses and will jump up to catch it, and the person without the glasses on will be wondering what the hell kind of drugs is this jumping nerd on to cause such a peculiar behavior.
Oh, and let’s not forget my favorite subject relating to this: escapism. As fun as it would be to put on a pair of ARG glasses at the local YMCA to make a treadmill run that much more enjoyable, there’s also the possibility that those dissatisfied with the real world will become dependent on ARG glasses. They won’t be the fat and pasty nerds we are all familiar with; they will be getting some exercise depending on how the ARG they are playing works. But they will still like the fake reality more than the real one they were born into.
Suddenly, I feel like my video piece I did about technology consuming one’s life and reality seems more relevant with this new information.