I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. Surprised?
One of the themes for a bunch of my recent stuff has been to get away from the hard science fiction and fantasy writing and build stories around slightly more plausible fictions, in particular stories about the culture and ideas of the net. From a couple of perspectives, namely that of (a) a hack of a social anthropologist and (b) a card-carrying member of the geek tribe, net culture is fascinating to me. So, rather than make up fantastic realities, I’ve spent a lot of time making up fantastic scenarios inside the reality of people interacting online.
A story that I’ve been working on has piqued my interest, and if all goes according to plan I’ll be releasing it soon. But I wanted to pick the brains of my readers, particularly those folks with an interest in coding and/or games because I’ve placed this story in a world that is essentially parallel to ours, save for one thing: the world of video games has taken a decidedly different direction.
Now, the “why?” to this particular decision is not really important. The nature of gaming in the story serves two roles: (1) there is a conflict about games in the story, but the game is mostly a MacGuffin and I wanted to veer clear of as much real or perceived real-life correlation as I realistically could, and (2) even though I’m not writing fantasy, I wanted to explore some reality alternatives and I’m interested in gaming.
Now here’s the background: in our world, reality, we’re all quite familiar with the direction of gaming. In the last twenty or so years we’ve collectively put millions of billions of hours towards developing games and ideas for games that essentially translate a real life concept into the digital realm. We don’t even question this. Think everything from video game versions of board games to RPGs to FPS to whatever. All sorts of games come from the idea that we can mimic reality (or a fantastic version of it) inside a computer and then display it on a screen. Fine. This was probably the most natural way for things to go. And as soon as some folks did it once, that’s the way they continued. And now you think of the alternative — whatever that may be — and the primitive nature of what that might be in relation to the complexity of say an XBOX360 or a PS3 and there is no competition.
But here’s the thing: maybe it wasn’t always so obvious. Maybe there was an alternative. Maybe, rather than projecting fake realities onto television screens, back in 1983 or thereabouts, some company built a little more sophisticated version of Battleship(TM) or something, then someone built a better game to compete with that, and someone topped that one, until we got to the point where games weren’t data being spewed out onto a screen, but actual physical objects interacting with each other through sophisticated technology. You bought a console that didn’t hook up to your tv, but rather used computation to track and manage the information about actual physical game pieces in actual physical space.
Sure, I know what you’re thinking. How would a slightly better version of Battleship(TM) ever have competed with the likes of Super Mario? But the point I’m trying to get to is yeah… how? Your homework (or at least think of it as helping me with my writing research) is what kind of realistic game complexity do you think we as game consumers would have accepted in the late 1980s and early 1990s that would have filled the void left by the absence of a video game industry as we currently know it? Is it hypothetically possible that say, at about the time the PS2 was coming out, had we put our collective billions of hours into the development of sophisticated (alternate) game modalities, we’d we playing complex games using modular elements that were technologically advanced enough to have flexible purposes across gaming genres, boards with mod-able terrain, bits with capacities to contain sensors measuring relative proximities or tracking individual variables or changing shapes and colours or bonding together as required.
Here’s a more concrete example. If you think of a game like Warhammer or Warmachine for example, we currently play this using pewter painted dudes who’s movements and strategies are measured by rulers and rolls of dice all with real physical pieces. Now, we simulate similar sorts of play in video games using RTS concepts, the pieces rendered as 3D graphics moving around the screen at the click of a mouse attacking each other with nifty animations and complex randomizing mathematics and algorithms. But — completely hypothetically and in this fiction context — what would a technologically advanced version of Warmachine or Warhammer look like had we skipped the game-on-a-screen idea and instead put our societal geek brain power into building a game blending the real physical pieces with modular electronic components, Bluetooth-like networking, shape-shifting terrain, etc? How far could we have come in the current day? And what other crazy adaptations or ideas come to mind.
(All contributors get acknowledgment and credit in any published/printed/distributed work.)
Let the brainstorm begin.