This is a series of five posts where I will talk about some technologies that may change how we live, work and play. They are personal opinion and I could very well be wrong. I mention them sometimes in conference presentations and workshops and wanted to describe my thinking is a series of short posts.
The first technology that I think will change how we live, work, play and learn is immersive gaming. I first talked about this in my Games Based Learning Keynote Presentation in March 2010 (#GBL10). Let me explain my thinking.
First of all I want to say that I am a real advocate for games in education. I currently work for the Consolarium which is Learning and Teaching Scotland’s Centre for Games Based learning and innovation in Education. During this projects development since 2006 we have successfully put hundreds of computer games in classrooms around Scotland and seen a real impact on teaching, learning and student motivation. But, in this post I am not talking about the sort of playful games that we promote in schools. I want to talk about graphically violent computer games.I think that some games that are commercially produced are unsuitable for children. I don’t think I am alone here? The law has given many of these games an age rating in Europe the rating for most of the games that I am talking about is PEGI 18.
A PEGI 18 Games Classification means that”
“…the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence and/or includes elements of specific types of violence. Gross violence is the most difficult to define since it can be very subjective in many cases, but in general terms it can be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.”
In North America this type of game would have a M (mature) rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board – meaning that you have to be over the age of 17 to play it.
I think that games classifications are a good thing and that they are necessary. However, there are three big complications with age limits on games in relation to young people.
- Many parents don’t realize that games have age limits on them.
- Children still play the games at other peoples houses and even the most responsible parents have no control over this.
- Peer pressure – children dare each other to play these games and they want to because they no it is not allowed.
Some people will argue that young people have always played violet games. I agree. I can remember playing cowboys and Indians and a child and ‘war’ with my cousins. I can also remember playing ‘combat’ for the Atari 2600 – arguably at the time this was a violent video game. You had to blow things up, you were in combat, you were fighting, you got points for killing people (tanks, planes and jets are all driven by people...).
So, what is the difference between my experience of playing early war games on the computer and a young person today playing the equivalent games. Well first lets compare some screen shots.
Combat (shipped with the Atari 2600) :-
Call of Duty - Modern Warfare :-
So, the first thing is the graphics. Call of Duty and other similar games look real. The people look real and when they are killed they sound real, they sound in pain, they sound like they are suffering…
Sound along with graphics are another example of how games have become more sensory over time. The Nintendo Wii revolutionized how feedback was given in game play because the controller can vibrate. This technology has been around for years but Nintendo made it commercially available and at a price point that everyone could afford.
But there are other peripherals that add to the sensory experience. Body armor is one of them. This was first shown at E3 in July 2009 When you wear it you can feel if you are getting shot or stabbed there is also a helmet peripheral that does the same thing. It works be using a compressed air cylinder.
Again, this technology has been around for years. The military use it in training – (it doesn’t make sense to actually shoot people in a training exercise). But like any other profession combat soldiers need feedback.
The big difference is the cost of the technology. Military systems cost thousands of pounds. But like any technology (just look at mobile phones of GPS as an example) they get cheaper and smaller over time.
The above system available for some games consoles and the desktop computer costs under £100. It has reached a price point and I am sure that many children will have these peripherals from Christmas 2010.
The next point is how you control your character. Traditionally you control computer games with a joystick and/or games controller. This interface has got more sophisticated over time. Again the Nintendo Wii has revolutionized games controllers and both Sony and Microsoft are working on their own versions. The most impressive controller by far is Microsoft Project Natal (which I just can’t wait to get my hands on – when it is launched later in the year).
Project Natal is impressive because there is not a controller. It uses sophisticated technology where your whole body is the controller. Have a look at the advertisement for the product below (You Tube Video). You don’t have to watch it all, just the first 40 seconds or so until you see the fight scene.
As you can see from the clip the game becomes more immersive because it removes the need for the controller. One of the reasons that Project Natal will be so appealing for young people and other gamers is that it makes the game more real as it mimics your movements rather than generating movements by the gamer pushing buttons on a device.
So where am I going with this and what is my point? Well let’s look at a game like ManHunt (another game that has a PEGI 18 rating or a ‘Mature’ rating in North America). In this game one of your killing moves is to suffocate others with a plastic bag as you escape from the mental asylum. Look at the clip below to see a short demonstration of this.
Now think about it to predict where the technology is going. We have a highly violent game, probably being played on a large screen, with excellent (perhaps photo realistic graphics), stereo sound, where you can feel if you get pushed, shot or stabbed and there is no joystick. You control your character by your normal body movements and all of this technology will reach a price point and become ubiquitous around Christmas 2010.
So why do I think that games and technology like this will have an impact on how we live, work and play? Well, I think that as these types of games become more immersive children and young people may start to see a blurring of boundaries between what is real and appropriate. I am also absolutely convinced that globally there are thousands of children that currently come into contact with content in computer games that they are not emotionally ready for (that is, after all, why games have an age rating on them).
One thing is clear, regardless if you agree with me or not, we can’t stop the above. We do need to educate and make people aware of the possible impact of such technology on young people. Importantly, we also need to make sure that teachers (in particularly elementary / primary school teachers) talk to young people about their on-line and gaming experiences in the same way that we would speak to them about their experience (good or bad) in the real world.
What do you think?