Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Future of Art and Entertainment - Part 1

This video is long, basically uncut footage, and the good moments are kind of few and far between... but it's worth watching anyway.

I tell people I'm a gamer all the time and I think of myself in that way - but I've started to realize that in reality, I'm not REALLY a huge gamer. I love videogames. I'm not just saying that just because I think it makes me cool to like them. I actually love videogames in that uncool nerdy way where I can just lose myself in them. I think if I had no self restraint whatsoever I would spend my entire waking life playing videogames. But luckily I'm an adult and I DO have self restraint and playing for longer than an hour now makes me feel guilty. So I'm not really a gamer in that it now takes me about 6 months to finish a videogame. 

All that said - I enjoy games for many reasons - specifically, their ability to transport you to a different world, like a book or film, but UNLIKE books or films, you actually have control in those worlds. You literally get to take control of someone (or something) else and walk them through a story. I love the stretching of the format that's gone on recently, especially with the advent of the indie game movement (See: Portal, Braid, Fez, Limbo...) And I love that, now more than ever, there's more emphasis on the quality of the story and the character development. There's a lot of good things happening in that industry right now. (Not least of which is my little brother being accepted into RIT to study videogame development. Go Jesse!!)

So my initial reaction to this video was excitement. This technology is supposed to become available to consumers next holiday season. If it's as amazing as these reviewers say it is, I see this becoming a widespread gaming norm. (And potentially not just for gaming either - but we'll get to that.) I mean, this is what everyone wants, right? The experience of being IN it. The reviewer's reactions in the video (pointing upwards at the "snow" only they can see, freaking out when an NPC character "walks right by them") reminds me of that story about the Lumière brothers, back in 1895, showing a group of carnival-goers their very first film - "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat."

When they showed that to an audience of 19th-century people who had never seen a film before, everyone in the theater (apparently) ducked when the train rushed out of the frame. So that's what this new technology would be like for people. I would even say that the entire advent of 3D technology in film is related to this endeavor - people are trying to make entertainment an ever more immersive experience. And consumers want that. They want to be IN it.

My other reaction was... I guess I would say fear? Or at least trepidation about what this means.

Last summer I read a book called "Ready Player One," by Ernest Cline. It was my favorite book I'd read since Harry Potter (apparently I didn't think I was branding myself as enough of a nerd so I'm gonna go ahead and drop that sentence on you). I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but I'll give you the basic premise - it's set in the future when a technology called the Oasis has become more or less the next internet. It's a virtual reality that people plug into (very much like the Oculus in the above video) and see/experience - everything from shopping, to school, to videogames is done in this giant virtual world. It's so immersive - not to mention addicting - that most of the world's population now spends most of their time in this simulation. And not to sound like a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I can see that happening with this technology.

Maybe not. After all, videogames already exist and are wildly addictive - MMORPGs like World of Warcraft already claim many lives - yet they're still more or less a niche market! That's why consoles like the Wii exist in the first place - to get the average family interested in gaming. But I also think that technology like this has many applications outside of videogames for the average user. (Virtual shopping. Virtual redecoration of your home. Virtual hanging out with friends. Virtual dates. Virtual sex? Some of these things are already happening in WoW or Second Life.)

But also, maybe so. Near the end of the video, the person holding the camera says "this is a digital drug." My favorite part of Ready Player One was actually the end. ---SPOILER ALERT!!!!--- The main character was a teenager who was addicted to the Oasis. But at the end, when he meets the technology's creator, the guy says "I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real." And I think that's such an important lesson to learn - but ideally sometime before you're dying. I learned it when I was about 22. I finally bought and installed WoW on my computer - only to uninstall it 3 months later when I realized I was running around doing errands for NPCs in a virtual world when I could be spending time with friends or creating stuff. But had I grown up playing WoW and never learned social skills? I'd probably be playing it right now instead of being gainfully employed, trying to learn to draw, having an active social life, and keeping up a blog.

What does any of this have to do with art? Part 2 of this post will be much more art-centric. But also, I think it's important to note that all kinds of art are related (and videogames are an art form, no matter what Roger Ebert thinks). Painting and sculpture, fine art and comics and concept art, books, television, film and videogames - they're all threads in the huge woven basket of culture, and anything that affects one will affect another.

1 comment:

  1. I had to stop reading because I'm intrigued and I'm going to download that book since Harry Potter is also one of my favorites. But I will come back to the post when I'm done with the book.

    I'm also going to recommend a book. It's nothing like HP or anything but it's one of my more recent favorites that wasn't a classic: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I think I may have especially loved it because of the way I found it. Walking down the street, stopped at a garage sale that was barely visible from the sidewalk and after approaching and deciding to turn around, it caught my eye, sticking out of this bin of antique car (?) parts or something. Like it was waiting for me. Go on, go read it!