Will our minds soon mix up the line between fiction and reality?
I'll start by telling TAD that I really liked his "Violence and pixels - a deadly drug?" in Hugi #16. As he said, we've all read most of it before, but I don't think that subject can ever get uninteresting, mostly because no one really knows any answers yet. So to continue on the topic I'll tell you my view about one of his subjects, the video game killing.
"The fact that it probably is very enjoyable to kill someone still remains. That doesn't make it moraly defendable, but it has to be said that killing actually is pretty fun" - Gary Penn of DMA, the makers of Grand Theft Auto.
The video game business has changed the meaning of the word "die". I remember when The Legend of Zelda was released and directly got popular among both children and grown ups. Anxious parents got really frightened when their children stopped playing outside and instead sat in front of the TV all days casting spells and using different kinds of weapons and magics while shouting "kill him!". The newspapers tried to calm down the parents and also tried to explain this new kind of phenomenon. "To die doesn't literally mean that you die. You can always continue with your game anyway". My parents actually banned those games in my house, saying that they got me more violent towards my brothers and that I would mix up right and wrong playing them. And that dying would mean "continue?" for me. They were in a way correct, I'll tell you more about that later.
Whether you like it or not, the killing and violence sells. When a game company nowadays realize that they can't match the current standards of a genre, they include either sex or violent themes in their game to make it sell a lot anyway. Just think of all the violent beat'em ups that have been made in the last few years. Why are they full of blood and gore instead of having a nice and solid gameplay? Because of Namco and Sega on the 3d platform, Capcom and SNK on the 2d the companies don't stand a chance of making something as splendid as the four kings of the genre, which logically means they won't make as big profit.
But if you look back in the gaming history, there wasn't much violence in the old times. The technique of making an average game interesting by including blood wasn't very common either, mostly 'cause of the limited graphics which wouldn't make it look too cool. I guess the best known fight between "excellent gameplay" and "pretty good gameplay but including gore" is the epic battle of Street Fighter II versus Mortal Kombat for SNES and Mega Drive. Before the 16-bit consoles got standard that fight wouldn't have been possible.
The first real good horror game, Capcom's Sweet Home for Nintendo 8-bit, was directly banned from a worldwide release, and wasn't much of a hit in Japan either. In a horror game like that you must be able to get scared, to sense the horrifying atmosphere and to really feel like you are a part of the terrifying adventure. To put it short, the hardware didn't really fit the violent or horrifying games as it does today.
Later when Resident Evil was released on Playstation, Capcom created a whole new genre, and got their revenge. The hardware had now become sophisticated enough for that kind of game, and fortunately the skilled people at Capcom made it close to perfection and mostly because of that, it was a huge success and opened the door to that type of games to be made. Sequels got planned directly, clones appeared within some months and all game houses got inspired by it. It was also very close to a movie, which attracted another new type of people unseen in the gaming world.
And what do you think made Gary Penn rich if it wasn't all the violence and stealing in his GTA? The game was considered extremely cool just because you could run over humans, steal cars and and kill cops. And what teenager doesn't think it is cool to turn some irritating Hari Krishnas into a big bloody spot on the street with their machine guns? Even the fact that someone decided that it was a bit too violent to sell in some countries added an enormous amount of extra hype which lead to GTA's economic success.
How fun would GTA have been without those elements? Very boring in my opinion. But with them, it lasted for some hours and actually was quite fun at times. Ain't it a bit twisted?
When I played Resident Evil 2 the first time, one of the things that amused me the most was the improved zombies. You could now grab your shotgun, aim for the lower part of the leg and pull the trigger so that the leg flew away while the zombie started to crawl in his own blood. I laughed out load while starting to demolish his head that tried to get to me, and the zombie's blood started to leave its former body in a hurry. But nothing was as fun as the dead zombie, a dead zombie of whom only the leg left seemed alive. It reminded me of when I was little and cut off the head of a small worm I had found on the street. Both parts looked alive and I didn't understand a thing. Confused I continued chopping the poor worm's body until all the parts looked dead. When I finally realized that it probably had been dead all along I just started to laugh, then I left it and walked away as if nothing had happened.
Was my acting horrifying in any way? Will I someday turn into a mass murderer? Most people would definately say no. The worm killing is something all boys do in their age, just to explore the world and its limits. The Resident Evil 2 killing was murdering of an artificial zombie, not an innocent "real" human or animal. But what about killing humans in games, even killing your beloved friends? Why doesn't it affect you more than it does? 'Cause have you ever felt like puking while the inner parts of someone's body are ripped out in a video game? Why is it more like "cool!" or "that looked realistic!" than it is disgusting?
If you look forward in the video game evolution, what changes do you see? To predict the future, the best thing is always to think about the negative things in the present that might be able to change. What is missing in the games? The majority of the just three examples I will tell you is the feeling that you are REALLY visiting your character's world, that you actually ARE the person you're controlling. Even with games as extraordinary and fantastic as Final Fantasy 7 and 8, I always miss that feeling, even if those games almost take control of me. When I say almost, I mean that I really am in gameworld, but still have knowledge about what world I'm spending time in. What is needed to erase the line between those two worlds then?
To start with, better graphics and more advanced artificial intelligence. More realistic and much smarter in other words. Fortunately, that is a thing that absolutely will happen. The 3D worlds will feel alive and totally realistic and all the characters will feel, behave and look more like ordinary humans. If you want an example, check out the mindblowing Shen Mue for Dreamcast.
Secondly, you need to shut off everything else except your game. Playing on your TV (or monitor for PC gamers) always reminds you of this ordinary world, the same with the controller. That you have to eat, pee, call your friends, work or whatever you do when not playing. Sony has already released a Virtual Reality Helmet for PlayStation that worked really fine, although the bad thing was that it was terribly expensive. Sega once told their plans about the ultimate controller. It would be an implant in your body, preferably your mind, that understood your emotions. To take an example, when you felt very scared your character would start to look scared and shiver very realistic. And in a RPG it would understand what girls you had feelings for and then form the game after those emotions. Just think of the possibilities with a "controller" like that.
The third thing is identifying yourself with your character. Do you often feel like you are the person you are controlling? I sure don't. It sometimes happens that the character is cool though, but not very often. And do they look and behave like me? Not close (I'm too cool for all of them haheae..)! And I definitely can't stand the RPGs with strange looking manga creatures. How in #¤¤%¤ will I ever be able to identify myself with some maniac with blue hair and millions of magic spells in his pocket?? And when the love scenes arrive, how will I be able to enjoy them when my "love" has pink hair and 4 metres long ears!?
"Today the player's possibilities to really live in the gameworld are very restricted. But thanks to, among others, the USB-ports on our new console the player will be able to load an image of himself into the memory so that the character of the game gets the player's face and body" - Ken Kutaragi, the father of PlayStation 2.
When I read that speach I got extremely frightened. I directly started to think about the time I played FF7 the first time and named all the characters after IRL friends. It added a lot of extra love towards the game and it was even more wonderful to play that way, but it also had a huge flaw. One of the nine main characters that I was able to name looked very much like a girl in my class, a girl I had been flirting with for a short period of time, just for fun (read "just because she was incredibly beautiful" hahehe). In the game I dated her, experienced stunning adventures with her and almost fell in love with her. Later when I one day had played more than ten hours, without even visiting a toilet or eating some food, my eternal love died. The loss of my beloved felt undescribable. Fortunately, her "real life" replica was still alive, and after a couple of months I was totally in love with her. She was perfect and my entire life was about my plan to get her. I'm not going to tell you that story now folks, the story of my biggest love yet, so calm down.. However, all my feelings for her are long gone.
It was just recently that I started to think about her connection with the RPG character. Did it affect my feelings? Did I see the character in her or did I see who she really was? Probably it didn't affect me at all, the IRL copy was wonderful, but who knows really? I'm absolutely not the type that easily gets influenced by other people or other people's thoughts ("I am because I think", think for yourself in every way, always search the ultimate truth in everything, or you are as equally worth as the worm I told you about some minutes ago), but who can truthfully tell if FF7 did?
What will the future RPGs look like when Kutaragi's plans have become standard? Will I sit in front of my TV (or preferably with a VR Helmet) and live my life with real-life persons in a fantasy world? Will I be romantically involved with my RPG girls and then be able to act normally with them in my real life? Well, maybe in the near future it will be possible, but will I be able to do so when the graphics and AI are perfectly realistic, when I really AM the character I'm controlling and actually is LIVING in the articial universe? Even if the thought certainly frightened me, I'm not sure if it will be as frightening as I imagined, do you?
Sometimes the human brain mixes up things, even the line between the worlds we are living in. One day when I had been in front of my computer for more than fifteen hours without sleep, I went down to my fridge and opened it while thinking "search: hot dog". It actually took some seconds before I understood how extremely stupid I was acting. Another example is that I often think "load game" when I embarrass myself or do something I deeply regret, which obviously proves that my parents were right that day.
If your mind hasn't fooled you like that yet, and you either think that I am lying or just overdramatic, try this. Visit some demoparty, provoke a Quake playing lamer into total madness, and you'll notice how correct I am. I assure you that he will start screaming frantically "I'LL FRAG (which means "kill" in Quake) YOUR ASS! I'LL FUCKING GIBB ("rip the body apart") YOU INTO PIECES!!" or something as Quake'ish as that. But what does he do, the young, thin and weak little Quaker when he goes berserk? Waves his arms a bit and scream out some ugly things about you, then his ugly red face turns back to white again and he places his tiny ass back on the chair to continue playing. I know, I've tried it a lot of times, it is definitely very amusing!
If we image that the last story happened ten years into the future instead, what would be different? OK, one thing is certain, he would scan the provoker's face into his console/computer and strafe around killing an artifical version of him (/her?) in his beloved Quake 9 (or whatever). He would at the same time feel totally involved with the game, forget about everything else in his VR Helmet and also forget that the world he currently is living in is just a world made by pixels and polygons. The killing of all the people, the gore, all the violence and the big amount of blood would be something very normal to him. He would be able to "gibb" his enemies while looking into their eyes full of agony. To ignore their overwhelming pain and their begging of mercy.
Now, how would the provoked and furious Quaker react this time if his mind fooled him when you approached him, right when he had finished a session? Would he take you for an enemy without you taking any new provoking action? I think it is possible, he could tear you to pieces. Not by his tiny arms maybe, but if a gun or some other lethal weapon was easy to catch beside him, he definitely would use it if his mind screwed things up.
But who knows, maybe those kinds of games will be illegal in the future, and 'cause of that all game producers will stop producing them when they don't earn any money from it. But is that what we really want? I certainly don't, I love games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Dino Crisis to name a few. But if I someday realizeed that I was about to kill someone like I kill the zombies in RE (or kill someone in some other way, of course), I would without doubt stop playing that kind of games immediatly. Wouldn't you?