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Past futures of gaming

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Recently, in a Vermont used bookstore I found "Man and the Computer," a combination history of, and speculation on, the future of computing. Written in 1972 by John Kemeny (co-author of BASIC and former president of Dartmouth), it was surprisingly prescient: "Children will find the home terminal an immeasurable asset in doing homework. Indeed the child of 1990 will find it impossible to conceive how the older generation managed to get through school without the help of a computer. After he or she completes all homework assignments, the computer terminal can serve as a major source of recreation. Not only will the computer play a wide variety of games with the user but it can monitor multiperson games with each player sitting in his own home. It can deal cards or set up chess boards or enforce the rules of Monopoly. By that time, not only will two children in different homes be able to quarterback opposing football teams, but with televisionlike display terminals it should be possible to show simulated action so that the quarterback feels that he is in the midst of a huddle and sees what actually takes place." That's some pretty fine forecasting from back before Pong, home computers or the Internet existed. In 1988 Michael Banks wrote a column on "The Future of Computer Gaming": http://www.atarimagazines.com/st-log/issue24/64_1_TWO_FUTURES.php His forecast shows a strong emphasis on hardware: what kind of technologies would be available to gamers of the future, all the way up until 2010 (and beyond), at which he mentions the possibility of Vernor Vinge's "singularity" rendering future prognostication impossible. His guesses include new modes of input, such a motion wand very much like the Wiimote, and new modes of sensory output, most of which remain unrealized. He mentions multiplayer in passing, but failed to guess at how the Internet would transform gaming within little more than a decade. But other authors did speculate on massive computer games. In 1985 I read a short story called "Catacomb" in Dragon magazine describing an incredible multiplayer fantasy game played by people all over the world, where virtual magic items were so sought after they could be traded for real world dollars. The author has kindly posted it to the web for posterity: http://www.henrymelton.com/0/h10.html What are other interesting examples of gaming forecasting? Are there any aspects of modern gaming that managed to elude yesterday's futurologists? What assumptions did they make which turned out to be dead wrong or wildly optimistic?

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Very cool examples. Unfortunately I can only think of counter examples, like the old Gilman Louie (of Spectrum Holobyte) observation that there's not much point in multiplayer because we gamers are essentially antisocial geeks. I think MMOs must have been a surprise to him.

What I find interesting about prediction is that it often seems that forecasting is more about 'getting' the essential nature of the thing in question than it is about understanding every single trend. With gaming it's critical to understand what people really want to be getting out of the experience and what tools and business models will enable this. You could ask, for instance, if we really want to be so sedentary in our games, or whether or not we want overlap between our games and the real world. Yes or no to both lead to interesting possible futures-- the VR cocoons of science fiction, say, or the context sensitive game glasses that overlap your game with real world objects.

Interesting stuff!

EDIT: Just thought of Chris Crawford's Art of Computer Game Design where he talks about two possible gaming futures driven by different forces:

Quote:

Consider two extreme hypothetical future worlds. The first world has no technological development and the second world has no artistic development. In the first world I am stuck with an Atari 800 as my sole medium for game design. This does not worry me too much; I could explore the possibilities of this machine for five or ten years before beginning to feel trapped. The second world, though, is a bleak place indeed; I am doomed to write ever-fancier variations on STAR RAIDERS and BREAKOUT, with more colorful explosions, snazzier sounds, and 3-D photon torpedoes, but never anything new or different. I would feel trapped immediately.

Neither of these worlds will happen; we will have both technological development and artistic development. Yet, we must remember that the technological development, while entirely desirable, will never be the driving force, the engine of change for computer games. Artistic maturation will be the dynamo that drives the computer games industry.

The relative importance of technological development and artistic maturity is made clear by a comparison of modern movies with the silent movies. The modern movies boast gigantic technological advantages---sound, color, and fabulous special effects. When used with skill and artistry, the new technologies are indeed magnificent. Yet, all these advantages cannot make up for a lack of artistic quality: the computer-graphics blockbuster TRON compares poorly with any of Charlie Chaplin’s movies. if Chaplin could do so much with black and white film and no sound, why cannot we do good work with 8 bits and 48K?

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While talking about this with a friend, one thing we noticed is still missing is "Virtual Reality." As in some kind of interface that visually immerses you in a 3D world. If you look at predictions from the 80's and 90's regarding computer games (either in fiction or articles), they all assumed VR was just around the corner, via some combination of glasses, helmets, gloves, body suits, etc.

While 3D technology has been continually advancing, actually immersive 3D as a common way of interacting with computers and playing games is still science fiction.

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Quote:
Original post by justkevin
While 3D technology has been continually advancing, actually immersive 3D as a common way of interacting with computers and playing games is still science fiction.


Well, the technology has existed in some form or other for quite a while - I think the reason it hasn't taken off is mostly to do with usability problems such as the motion sickness that many people get when using a VR headset, or the difficulty and confusion often experienced in navigating 3D worlds with such a device.

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