Future Planet- The Future of Gaming
The Director of the Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow, forecasts that by 2050 advances in Gaming technology will accelerate the emergence of a new form of Virtual Reality- Reality 2.0 integrated with society’s cultural, work and technological practices. It will also assist society in coping with the impact of Global Warming and other potential threats to life's survival on our future planet.
Gaming has now become a mainstream activity for all demographics- playable anywhere anytime, often for free. Simple combinatorial games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush are now freely available via the Internet on mobile platforms, downloaded on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. With the rapid penetration of the Internet, gaming is now a part of our everyday lives.
Now the art and science of Gaming encompasses dozens of new categories in the form of multiple overlapping genres, powerful games engines and mobile platforms, as well as AI enhanced virtual and augmented reality effects and glasses. And within each of those categories countless crossover combinations and alluring formats are evolving.
In the following analysis we will explore the major trends likely to have the biggest impact on the shaping of gaming and in the process the moulding of our future social environment.
Infinite reams have been written in gaming blogs about the pros and cons of the various specialised consoles and game-playing platforms - consoles such as PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U and the new VR helmet entrants etc. Gaming has been building as a global form of entertainment for many years- advancing in popularity, sophistication and financial reach; from the earliest forms of arcade video games in the 60s to the 70s black-and-white 2D games like Pong, to the first primitive shooting games in early eighties
Then to the more complex life-like 3D war games such as Battlefield 3 in the nineties and more recently to games of fantasy, role playing, graphic realism, story telling and mind blowing virtual reality including Avatar, Second Life and its sequel High Fidelity in the present era.
The evolution of gaming is also about the rise of the new generation of multiplayer games and powerful PCs and laptops with multicore chipsets and GPUs, based increasingly on Linux variants such as SteamOS. Now the increasing popularity of the nextgen super mobile Phones and Pads such as the Tegra K1 android tablet with advanced features set to match the full power of consoles has arrived. But the choice is still expanding exponentially, with games increasingly cross-platform, with a common content base streamed from the Internet.
Today’s massive multiplayer Internet platforms exploit limitless Cloud capacity in the sky, capable of streaming to tens of thousands of players and onlookers simultaneously - as at the recent Twitch event Pokemon gameplay- similar to a world televised Chess championship except it's more interactive; the beginning of a new form of uber crowdgaming.
In the future games will also connect to home video screens and full 3D/UHD surround helmets, goggles and cockpits, providing similar effects in real life to the Minority Report or Star Wars Holodeck scenarios.
Of course there has also been a back reaction to this complexity - recapturing the simple joys of adolescence with countless indie mobile games on inexpensive phones, such as the previous Flappy Bird and its latest spinoff Flapmmo.com. But these still allow features such as increasing levels of difficulty, reward points and performance statistics etc.
So the world of gaming is now on a trajectory that requires it to offer ever more powerful graphics and special effects when the storyline requires it and yet more realism.
The trendline seems set for more complexity and real life emulation.
Models based on the pervasive laws of physics can replicate the properties of the natural world using engines capable of generating rich 3D environments- algorithms that mimic real world phenomena like subtle lighting and shadow effects, the dynamics of wind and rain, sky and cloud textures, the deformation of materials, collision of particles, fire and heat implosions and the movements of flocks of birds, forests and rivers.
Beyond that is the physics and chemistry of human and animal movement, skin texture and facial expressions, including seamless actions and reactions mirroring complex cognitive behavioural and psychological responses in realtime. Also utilising biofeedback- pulse rates, respiration, body temperature etc, allowing the delivery of personal immersive and customisable experience back to the player. The layers of feedback and cumulative effects can eventually threaten to disrupt the timeline momentum of a game, so their introduction has to be carefully controlled.
As the quality and complexity of online games improves, more people spend more time playing them, until the game becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. Interactive role playing has also become key, where the player is part of the storyline and chooses the action pathway- evolving from the early games of Battlefield Galactica, Dungeons and Dragons and SteamPunk.
Now game playing has become a mega industry, with the classic Grand Theft Auto V generating $1billion in sales within three days of release. And a new set of game experiences in - Zelda, 300: Rise of an Empire, Civilisation V, Assassin's Creed, Brave New World, UE4, Ashphalt 8, San Andrea and Anomaly 2 playing out in true HD virtual reality, using ultra VR surround helmets, devices such as Microsoft 3D Kinect motion controller and imaging system as well as the lure of realistic graphics interfaces including direct Brain to Computer and Brain to Brain cognitive Interfaces, linked to full holographic sensory surround.
So ultimately we find ourselves in the another space altogether- the realm of augmented and virtual reality. And how do we know that these realities will mark the next phase of Gaming? Because they already do.
Virtual reality in entertainment has been around a long time - in sci-fi films such as The Matrix, Tron and Avatar. But from a gaming perspective also in early prototypes such as cockpit arcade games, flight simulators and popular 3D games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft.
But now VR technology has taken a gigantic leap in the form of the Oculus Rift and Morpheus headsets and other similar technologies that allow games to be visualised in 3D in synch with head and body movements linked to a kinetic controller. Although currently still restricted to developers, streamlined VR helmets and glasses will become a standard commodity item for game players and now the social media, selling for less than $100.
At the same time Augmented reality- allowing multiple layers of information and images and visual effects to overlay real world images has become almost commonplace with Google Glass now leading the charge, assisting doctors, engineers and machine operators to work in dangerous or restricted environments and advertisers and marketers to target potential customers on the move with ubiquitous product messages.
In the near future therefore it will become increasingly difficult to separate the ‘virtual’ from the 'real' - integrating game role playing with actions in real life.
As early as 2030 most of our lives will be immersed in this shared reality- linking game playing with art, entertainment, technology, science, work and daily life routines such as shopping, entertainment, social exchange and travel. Meanwhile the new world of startups is providing more creative and efficient ways of implementing everyday processes in ecommerce, the media, services and entertainment via mobile platforms and will increasingly be implemented via a games interface.
This will be accelerated by the Internet of Things or intelligent objects. The internet of objects will allow the built environment of human civilisation to be simulated and controlled via sensors and actuators allowing for cross or X-reality- the fusion of virtual and real processes, to become the norm.
Alternate realities will then surround us not only visually, but at all sensory levels- tactile, oral, taste and smell. They will also be populated by virtual life forms living within virtual societies, creating virtual communities endowed with their own sets of goals and behaviour patterns. These new realities will be multi- dimensional, operating in realtime surround simulations; increasingly inseparable from the real reality.
Artificial life or A-Life is also being created in the computer science laboratories and translated to gaming practice, based on the spontaneous computer generation of emergent behaviour of role playing avatars that mimic the dynamics of social and biological evolution. Virtual life avatars also simulate reality equipped with artificial intelligence, generating their own unique problem solving capability and supporting human needs.
By 2040 the Web will offer an all-immersive 3D environment combining elements of social networks, virtual worlds and geolocation, linked to a dense Google Earth Matrix; allowing closer interaction with friends and contacts in their daily lives and workplaces as well as workers in a remote wilderness or critical disaster area. These physical representations or models of our earth and its social environment represent mirror worlds and mirror communities.
Such communities already exist in the form of creative non-violent games such as Farmlife 2, The Sims 4 and Jurassic Park, limited only by the imagination of their creators and players; meshing with the real world of sensory information as its users navigate through their daily lives.
Prototypes of virtual worlds will then not be limited anymore to the relatively static domains of 20th century IMax cinemas, Museums and Planetariums- innovative as they may be. They will represent an emerging Metaverse of potential and realised realities- past, present and future. It’s then just a small step to create proto-reality spaces like the Star Treck Holodeck, not just for entertainment gaming but for real life enhancement and problem-solving.
By 2050 therefore gaming models will have begun the transformation into an integral part of a new human reality- Future Reality 2.0
In hindsight it can be seen that virtual, augmented and X- realities are early phases in an ongoing evolutionary transition towards the acceptance of virtual forms as part of everyday human co-existence. In the process we have crossed the threshold into a new dimension, extending human perception and interaction; linking with ubiquitous object sensory and actuator networks based on low cost wireless and optical technologies to create mixed realities.
Such a dense networked web will help integrate physical reality with virtual computing platforms generating the ability to react to real-world events in effective autonomous fashion. This creates a revolutionary relationship between human society and the Web, with the urgent need to understand the way our behaviour and future processes will become inevitably shaped by its cyberspace evolution.
In other words the world is evolving its own electronic nervous system via a dense mesh of neural-node type networks, eventually connecting and encompassing vast numbers of objects- living and non-living on the planet and in space. It is already beginning to host an immersive 3D sensory environment that combines elements of social and virtual worlds with increasingly complex geolocation mapping applications that allow the planning and monitoring of natural and urban ecosystems; providing a powerful tool to cope with climate and political change.
The approaching climate Armageddon will be a critical accelerator in the emergence of serious problem-solving gaming technology.
Rich two-way cross-reality experiences will be the norm, capable of streaming virtual and remote phenomena into the user’s physical space, via video feeds and images uploaded from object sensors and human brain machine interfaces. But this process can also extend into the past and future, allowing real-time access to historical and future trendline data streams, vital for analysis in business and the sciences as well as education and entertainment.
The implications and potential of these virtual advances are enormous, pointing the way towards the next momentous shift in the evolution of human life and our world- a fusion of real and virtual, past present and future-
Welcome to the new game of Reality 2.0.
But gaming technology is already becoming mainstream in the world of business, education, science, sports and war planning. This is so-called serious gaming. applied to activities such as event and conflict strategy, business decision-making, education and workplace operations- skills including flight simulator training, remote exploration- using robots and drones, heavy equipment maintenance, rescue missions and disaster management- all operated remotely like an arcade or console game.
The following examples provide some insight into the application of gaming principles in these fields-
Conflict and Disaster Gaming
Conflict and disaster management involves the application of strategic planning methods by defence and service strategists to evaluate and improve methods and performance in response to case study scenario options; testing the way a plan might play out or be affected by complex and unpredictable interactions; then mitigate any exposed risks.
Advanced gaming technologies such as the Oculus Rift/Facebook and Sony helmet and intelligent agents, assist in simulating the requisite immersive virtual reality to improve the flexibility, efficiency and quality of the decision-making involved.
Sports and Event Gaming
Gaming in the context of live sporting or entertainment events has recently received a boost using a system to provide every fan at a sporting event with a personalised phone wifi and location app- Mobbra, allowing them to receive background content such as player interviews, game statistics and interaction with other spectators. This turns such major events into a truly interactive gaming experience.
Crossover between virtual gaming and real life skills is also being extended to select gamers as competitive racing drivers at Nissan’s GT academy of Gran Turismo, on the basis of their virtual driving skills.
Science and Educational Gaming
Research in how people learn and interact in online gaming environments can assist in designing enhanced ways for science learning- integrating gaming technologies into classrooms and research facilities.
Digital games are an example of how technology can engage thousands of participants in solving problems - including scientific discoveries.
This symbiosis has been taken to a new level through the latest use of Crowdsourcing- using gaming to exploit the support and creativity of non-experts in a variety of scientific disciplines, to help solve complex problems, through the power of many minds working in tandem with computers and the Web.
For example Phylo is a game that allows users to contribute to the science of genetics by aligning sequences of DNA, RNA and proteins to find functional similarities and learn how they have evolved over time. Humans are better at solving such visual puzzles than computers and Phylo represents molecular groups by the alignment of vertical coloured pieces on a screen. There are currently 16,000 registered users working to solve such puzzles.
Foldit is another example; a protein folding game capable of solving puzzles such as the optimum folding patterns of chains of amino acid that make up the building blocks of enzymes and proteins and cracking the code of how an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus is created. It took the gamers only three weeks to create an accurate model of the solution using virtual amino acid strings on a video screen which had defied professionals for years.
Now the next level of gaming has been reached by connecting video game players directly to a real robot controlled biochemistry lab for synthesising and testing the RNA/Amino acid sequences.
In addition a number of phone app games have been developed by physicists to help non-experts understand what goes on in a particle collider including-
LHSee, designed for players to search for the elusive Higgs particle discovered last year at the CERN Large Hadron Particle Collider.
Another particle app- a retro-style arcade game, guides a character Ms. Particle-Man in a quest to find the Higgs particle while navigating mazes, dodging hazards and colliding with other elementary particle.
What began as a simple pinball-like game morphed into a much richer world inhabited by characters that took the form of various subatomic particles- photons, leptons, gluons, quarks and even dark matter play starring roles.
Video games are also having an enormous impact on children at school, particularly mobile gaming- providing a sense of empowerment. But that impact is often seen as disruptive to the learning process. So the aim is now to change that perception and harness the creative potential of gaming to enhance the child’s educational experience.
By the next decade it is likely the power of the Web will be fully deployed towards this new learning paradigm based on an immersive gaming virtual reality. This will be applied for all age groups including training for adults, supporting the full range of training needs from trade apprenticeships to strategic management skills. It will become a standard function of school and university teaching and research in the near future.
Game Theory Applications
As gaming becomes more scientific in its quest for greater realism and performance in the practical application to real world problem-solving, there will be an inevitable convergence with the theory of gaming.
Game Theory is about making better decisions to maximise value in games that simulate negotiation of power or asset status between individuals or groups. The gaming is based on an understanding of the mathematical rules governing the dynamics of the process- the probabilities of potential success or failure of an action or strategy, to determine the level of risk involved in achieving an outcome.
But there are many options governing the rules of a game- cooperative or non-cooperative negotiation, the sharing or hiding of knowledge, uncertain or incomplete information, multiple parties with different objectives, non financial goals, gaining a long or short term advantage and uncertain starting conditions and constraints etc.
Originally it was the domain of economists, used to model simple zero sum outcomes relating to economic or trade advantage, with the interaction between two parties.
But the scope of the theory has widened in recent times to include complex risk assessment in many domains- diplomacy between nation states in international relations, climate change, food and water security impacts on populations and competition between corporations in the technology, finance, energy and resource sectors.
Gaming is therefore likely to have a major impact on helping to solve humanity’s problems in the future- as a tool for finding more ethical and sustainable solutions to its needs.
The vision of a transition to a second reality through gaming is slowly coming together, but is just the beginning of solving a series of massive interlocking technological and engineering problems.
Nothing close to this level of VR realism had ever been attempted in gaming before.
The Oculus Rift can convert computer graphic images to full VR in simplified games environments such as Doom 3 and Gears of War, linked to Kinect devices simulating movement and motion gestures in 3D; but to capture full sensory information in realtime, seamlessly integrating it with the laws of physics and biology at the same time is another matter entirely
Both the computing and bandwidth capacity needed to drive the process would have to scale up an orders of magnitude at least, leveraging the latest supercomputers and prototype quantum processors. Bandwidth capacity could be achieved by utilising the latest breakthroughs in optical fibre technology at terabit speeds allowing multiple strands of an optical data streams.
But above all, the Web would have to be much cleverer, based on breakthroughs in AI, virtual SDN- Software Defined Neural Networks, Data Linked Architectures and Decision Engineering technologies to connect and route linked information packets to the appropriate decision nodes autonomously. This would utilise a more intelligent and sentient structure more like the human brain and a strategy optimised to gaming priorities. It would also have to incorporate a heterogeneous architecture allowing combinations of different processors such as GPUs with specialised capabilities to work seamlessly in harmony.
Such architectural advances are already on the drawing board including projects by DARPA and Google, incorporating the massive power of the next generation of superclouds and data centres, based on synchronising tens of millions of distributed decision processing nodes.
But Gaming as a paradigm is just starting to evolve into a more sophisticated form - a science which can be applied to solve scientific, business, technological and global governance problems, merging with existing AI and simulation software. It is now becoming an integral part of human culture with all human activity and innovation seen as a form of Game.
This is a pivotal moment in human history- the transition towards acceptance of virtual abstract and symbiotic forms as part of everyday human existence, in the process crossing the Rubicon into a new existence.
By 2050 this new era of a vastly extended multidimensional reality, linked directly to the senses, but still dependent on the present physical world which has evolved over the past 4.5 billion years, will be ushered in.
It will be the beginning of an adjustment to an immersive sensory environment- a Meta-World, that will combine elements of the social and physical, using increasingly sophisticated geospatial mapping and modelling; allowing virtualisation of complex processes, objects and environments, while at the same time enabling the autonomous management of the planet’s natural and urban ecosystems in the face of pervasive global warming.
It will take the form of a gigantic Game with every person a player- intimately involved in the global decision-making process. If the transition succeeds, the reward will be enormous- a new opportunity for humanity to reset civilisation within a more ethical and peaceful framework, coupled to an enormously creative scientific and philosophical awareness; capable of neutralising global warming and moving to the next level of human social evolution.