We have always wanted to play on the holodeck ever since we watched our first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We know there’s something pure about it, deep in the base of our spines. We want to be completely immersed in a world that doesn’t actually exist, but is so real we believe it does.
Currently, when we play a game we can enjoy it for what it is, but there is always that separation between the game world and ours. We still know we’re dealing with a mouse and keyboard, and we don’t really exist inside of the world – simply viewing it through a screen and several layers of garbage if your desk looks anything like mine, which is kind of a let down if you’re playing the next installment of Leisure Suit Larry: Look! A Game With Boobies.
It won’t be until technology improves – or becomes more affordable – that games will be able to really immerse us and create an atmosphere like the holodeck. Nintendo is the first company to take a real stab at this by introducing their Wii, and more specifically the remote. Instead of being something with which you interact to indirectly control your avatar, the remote allows you to become the avatar. A game like Wii Sports allows you to not only control a representation of yourself, but to be yourself in the game. It immerses you in a world that isn’t yours.
But motion sensors are not enough to fully immerse. What you really need is a much larger screen; much larger, as in completely three-dimensional. As the screens get flatter, lighter, larger and cheaper, a 360-degree “screen” isn’t far away. With built-in sensors, you could put screens around the player and remove external controls from the process. The idea that we are anywhere but the game world slowly starts to melt away when you cannot turn away from the screen at all.
Once you have the visuals down, you can easily incorporate surround sound. When you’re standing in the middle of the world, 3-D sound will be crucial to intelligent game designers. As it stands now, you can’t really rely on it to get the player’s attention, but if surround sound is a given, and it’s well on its way to being so, sound goes from a value add to a significant gameplay component. Imagine slowly moving through a destroyed city, and that city is actually all around you, you can see it in your peripheral vision and everything, and then you hear a sound come from behind you and slightly to the right. You turn around to see what it is, and if a crazy kung fu fight ensues, all the better. Just make sure you stretch first.
So if you nail down the visuals and the audio, how about something like smell? The TriSenx Scent Dome was created to produce and sell smelling samples over the internet. It’s kind of silly, but at the same time, so much of our higher brain functions come from our sense of smell that to exclude it would simply be an oversight. Of course, this could lead to some incredibly disastrous experiments by game developers, if the technology was ever to be adopted, seeing as almost every game at one point or another has the obligatory sewer level, and as if it’s bad enough that the gaming industry takes some hard knocks for allowing people to virtually kill someone, it’ll definitely take some flak when some ingenious game designer starts putting in that fresh dead body stench. Hopefully this’ll be an option you can turn off; maybe replace it with the smell of freshly baked cookies.
Speaking of funny technology, there is actually a pressure suit in the works. The idea is you put on a full body suit, and when you get touched it will be able to put pressure on the affected area. Let’s put aside the obvious hilarious sexual situations inherent in such a technology (unlike a certain gaming magazine) and rather talk about it from the immersive standpoint. My immediate image is a bunch of nerdy types attempting to fit into one of these “one size fits all” things; I think we can all see the apparent difficulties here. Not to mention that it’s really impossible to put on a full-length suit of any kind and not look like a twit. But these social and industry constraints aside, there’s a lot value in this kind of suited technology. Imagine hiding from some kind of monster that’s searching the area for you and suddenly feeling a hand on your shoulder. Games just can’t do that right now.
The largest hurdle will probably end up being the social aspects of a real-life holodeck. If you thought people made fun of you for playing too many videogames now, imagine what they’ll say when they see you suit up and step inside a man-sized videogaming pod.
As technology leaps forward every day, the doors to a completely immersive play experience fly open. While the Star Trek holodeck is probably a ways off, currently existing technology can get us pretty close. It’s just a matter of whether or not the entertainment industry can make it affordable enough to be realistic. Then again, if you own a PS3, maybe you’re already willing to drop exorbitant amounts of money on games.
The interesting thing is the holodeck is inevitable. Even now, we have the ability to build a rudimentary version of this wondrous technology, and it doesn’t take too far a leap to see that this is where the gaming community wants to go. It might not be tomorrow, but someday soon we’ll be capable of standing in different worlds while standing in our living rooms, and the only thing that will convince us we aren’t where we think we are is our better judgment, and maybe the bag of chips we brought in with us.
Jon Sanderson is a Canadian based Actor/Writer who’s interested in the artistic and social side of gaming. Relatively new to the industry (But not to its products) he’s hoping to carve a name for himself in a way that won’t kill too many people.