|The idea for the Survey which has produced this special MOIA consideration of gaming and "virtual" worlds on the Web germinated during a discussion I was having with MOIA writer, Douglas McDaniel. In part of that e-mail exchange, Doug wrote:
"I do have a lot of thoughts on this, some of it already having been written. One of the latest interesting things, for myself, is the link between game designers and the military. There are many instances where games designers, after spending many years working for the military producing training simulations, go to work in the private sector to produce some of the more popular games that we see today.
"Also, the link between violence on the computer game, and violence in the real world, is an interesting and evergreen subject. There are various theories. Sometimes I lean toward the one that says, since we are inherently aggressive, such digital battles satiate our desire to conquer and destroy. An extention of that is the "cathartic theory," which is a minority, that these games add something positive, in an evolutionary way, toward our views of violence. Most would say that this is bull, that most research indicates the most obvious: Quake, especially when played by impressionable kids, will tend to make them more aggressive. Personally, I combine them all. While such games in fact desensitize us to violence, they also allow us to release our aggression more harmlessly.
"People want black and white answers, but this is an area with numerous greys. Our brains get emotionally downloaded during a serious online battle on "Age of Kings," and the most difficult thing to do is get your concentration back after the machine is turned off again.
"But I'm working on an essay, a chapter, really, that brings all of those things together. It talks about violence, the military, emotional downloading, and then interspersed is a personal experience going back to the 1970s-80s, when I was having problems with dreams about nuclear war. Repetitive dreams. The personal stuff is in italics in the essay, moves forward with regular exposition, and then drops back to the past, when I start playing "Missile Command" in the video game arcades in Tucson while I'm in college. I get addicted to the game, which is a sort of SDI combat. But in the long run it has some benefit, since the dreams stopped. That's a rather chilling point that I have been wanting to make for many years, my own experience in desensitizing, and now with all of this other online combat, and especially the weird culture you find in AOK, I'm really getting somewhere with it.
"I think in the future online life will be a maintenance of a constant personal avatar. There will be athletes who are famous only on the basis of these online warriors. Sometimes the avatar will get out of wack and will have to go to a shrink. Sometimes they will die, and if they have a real history online, there will be public funerals, performed online. Our whole lives will be attending to these avatars in business and pleasure. The bad side is that there's only so much time, but the difference between the real world and cyberspace is getting blurred already.
"Here's what I've written on games recently, if it helps.
"Welcome to our Fragfest, Dude. You are toast!"
Geeks have been claiming for years they are "Masters of the Universe." Gaming is just another way to role-play that personal fantasy...
"Games don't teach us violence. We are a violent species by nature. Games just help to channel some of it out of our systems, Dude...."
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A secondary concern of this MOIA investigation was how gaming was shaping the Web. Porn sites have gotten multiple props for being the edge of the envelope for Web innovation, but gaming sites --- at least in my view --- have never been recognized as leading-edge. So I turned to the members of the MOIA Discussion List for insights.
I was surprised at what I learned. The seque from discussing computer/console/video games to talking about "virtual" (VRML) environments seemed natural to me.
The first Survey question in this seque-section was: Do you believe the the future of Web interfaces are being driven by gaming technology?
Graeme Smith wrote in: "NO - They are there but I have recently gone broadband and I think news, movie and music media are way ahead of games as drivers of the net right now. When working and surfing I can't remember the last time I stopped to visit a games site I came across, but news and MP3's get me every time..."
Len Bullard agreed: "No. But, it works like this; attempts to turn web pages into games will fall short whereas attempts to use game stations as web interfaces will succeed wildly. 3D interfaces present dilemmas for searching and rapid acquisition that 2D does not. It is not true that the eye organizes complex information quickly; it can recognize and react to certain classes of motion and color very quickly, but universal metaphors of shape for abstractions have similar efficiencies to hieroglyphics and similar training costs."
But Robert Purvis did not agree. He wrote in: "Yes -- to the extent that web interfaces are moving to 3D. However, a 3D web interface is evolving not just to provide a space to interact with and move through, but to do things with it that games mostly don't do -- make greater sense and organization of info -- e.g., sophisticated relationships that aren't apparent via 2D tables or charts or databases."
And Randy Shuman seems to concur: "In the beginning, I refused to play computer games. I had my hands full with learning the nuances of the machine and couldn't afford to becoming a Pac-Man zombie. When I became more comfortable with the thing, I took a look at Microsoft Flight Simulator, version 2.3 I think it was. In those days, MS Flight Simulator was used to demonstrate system compatability and capability.
"If your PC could run MS FS it could run your business apps. In those days, walking through a computer show, you were accustomed to seeing FS running on most of the demo PCs. Through the years, games have required platforms capable of requirements beyond the needs of standard business packages, and games continue to push the envelope of graphic and processor capabilities.
"I can't think of a single program, other than 'niche' CAD and DTP, that can make use of todays 3D accelerators, sound systems and high end CPUs. True, it's nice to burn through that database with a 1.2 Ghz processor, but you could have waited the extra seconds if games had not demanded the ability.
|To which TJ Meadows had this observation to add: "Yes and no I believe that gaming has a huge impact on Web Interfaces of the future but I don't think that gaming is 'driving it'. I do see some of the best flash work I've ever seen or even done my self come from the 'clan' gaming ring. The big thing I see gaming doing for the web is that its getting younger and younger people involved in the web so these kids well have an edge because they have had longer to learn and get past that ooo and ohhh stage of technology."
And Krister Henningsson, from Sweden, had this to add: "Unconditionaly Yes. The urge to make game experiences as real as possible do force the developers and producers to enhance their products. Game Consoles came in on the ability to store superb graphics and a huge world to conquer. PC had a large market in the first place and now when it has become fast and good looking it will continue to keep the market, on gaming alone. WAP has a market through mobile phones but you can't play any games --- so it will not be a hit.
Palm pilots will fall out of the sky and burn for the same reason, or grow up to merge with [the] PC to [become] the ultimate game machine."
Finding that most of the people on our list leaned toward the 3D worlds of game environments being closer to the "real" and therefore more involving. It was natural to make the transition to questions I had about "virtual reality" worlds on the Web. Doug and I had both been talking about the work being done at Vios.com in our "private" conversation, but I knew there were many more players in virtual worlds for the Web out there. So, again, I turned to members of the MOIA Discussion List for their feelings about VRML and its impact on the future-Web.
It was about this time, that Len Bullard had his colleague, Paul Fishwick at the University of Florida (Gainesville) look at our little discussion. Professor Fishwick had this to add for our consideration: "I'd like to offer my 2 cents on this, being an avid gamer: A Question posed in the posted thread: "One of the answers I was attempting to suss out was why computer/console/video games seem so much more involving than other applications?"
"1. The game applications focus on platform dependent hardware -- tweaking where possible, although with DirectX and OpenGL drivers for most 3D cards, this should not be an issue in a VRML - v - Game comparison.
"2. The intensive 3D game applications are written in native code compilers (C++). There is no reason why VRML/X3D 'browsers' could not also be written in C++. VRML can be for more than web applications. It is broader than that. Two things are needed to make the bridge between great 3D game immersion and VRML:
And MOIA Discussionn List members had this to say about VRML "worlds:"
In answer to my four questions about VRML (Have you visited "virtual world" sites; what tod you find appleaing and unappealing; or they just an extension of older VRML presentations; will Web surfers gravitate to these kinds of sites in the future?) the ever loquacious Len Bullard provided these observations:
"...[I've visited] Cybertown, mostly. ...Cybertown lets you build your own clubs, homes, etc. It's free but you have to know how. They also provide a cheap tool for making your own avatars. The cybertown folks have just gotten to the fun stuff after a few years of experimentation. Again, just as we found in IrishSpace, doing complex work with buggy beta tech is challenging. Another thing to look at: try directing the work of distributed groups over a disincarnate medium. It is interesting what tactics one has to use when the force of incarnate personality isn't available. Again, coherence to a goal... it has both technical and spiritual aspects.
"Appealing: world's first online music gigs. The first avatar band made for the web was made for my band. I get to tour all over the world in my bathrobe. I have fans in Brazil, Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Japan. No money but a lot of appreciative mail without having to get a divorce. Love it.
"Unappealing: poor sound quality support and audiences who say the same nasty things they say at live gigs. Still not a very interactive experience. People hide behind their avatars and spend too much time posing instead of relating to each other or the music. In the vernacular, 'tough room'.
"Cybertown is a VRML97 world. Sites are not 'extensions of VRML' so the way you phrased that question is messed up. There are lots of other 3D languages such as 3DML. These are content languages. But, that aside..
"VRML97 is NOT a gaming language. Games usually depend on mathematical optimizations to achieve rendering speed. As described above, fast rendering is the sine qua non of gaming. Math optimizations include such things as culling based on shapes and distance to viewed object...
"Hardware can only take up so much slack but that is constantly improving. The 3D designer has to design for now or two years from now. It is a set of business and art tradeoffs. The big difficulty is lifecycle. If every new version of the player screws up the last version of the content, the maintenance costs kill. That is why new games come out slowly but new versions of old ones are perrenial. It is a nasty issue for many web content types and why proprietary formats often thrive (contract to sustain upwardly compatible formats). The problem for real time 3D animation (eg, VRML) is much worse given the interdepencies of rendering, behaviors, and interaction. Just getting the same color model between two implementations is a bitch.
"X3D (new VRML) may be a big improvement but that has yet to be seen. So far, the Sony BLENDO proposal is significant and may be part of Playstation, but there is a firefight over the object model. The impact of standard content formats on content repurposing and lifecycle has yet to be realized in gaming. It may be but hardware will take up the slack at that point (about two years from now).
"The other notion is to understand that gaming as a literature genre is still in its infancy. On one end, the shoot-em-ups, very limited plots are involved. On the other end, say IrishSpace, the plot is involved but the concepts are cinematic (linear) and therefore, not revolutionary if exemplary. The middle ground of non-linear plots, evolving, full-immersion is just beginning. The near term future is in the replication of real time, real world events in virtual worlds. The exemplar is sports. Real time motion capture is used to fetch the real world data, this is recorded and then put online as a world where the game can be played and dynamically altered. So monday morning quarterbacking will have a real meaning. There are other more serious applications, but for gaming, this is the lucrative one.
"Interactive theatre is quite appealing, but writing evolving plots is an infant art. There are lists such as vrml-lit maintained by Jed Hartman that have explored this idea extensively.
"The future standard to watch is MPEG4. It will drive all of the others by guaranteeing behavioral fidelity. Content formats that work with MPEG4 will do better as will the other tools made for them. Otherwise, proprietary players with proprietary content formats (eg, Shockwave) and translators to downtranslate say VRML into the proprietary format will be ubiquitous. However, people get tired of multiple plugins and when MPEG4 players emerge, that will dominate the open web pages. The game platforms will do the rest...."
Considering Doug McDaniel's enthusiasm about Vios, and the kudos I had gotten about CyberTown from other surfers interested in the VRML phenomenon, I was surprised to discover that a full 50% of list members said they found these "virtual worlds" uncompelling.
The major complaint about the technology was that it is still not ready for "prime-time," as Mr. Bullard implies. While the Vios system bridge that gap. We shall see this autumn when it is finally released.
In the meantime, games seem to be the cutting edge of immersive worlds on the Web.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Working as List Moderator for the MOIA discussion list, I've often engaged in interesting explorations like this one that open my mind to new vistas of possibility --- for technology, for the human experience, and for the future of the Web. I continue to maintain that none of us have ANY IDEA what the Web will look like three or five years from now, but that it's still a good thing to explore all these possibilities.
What I find most interesting about being a tech writer is getting the opinions (and, often, corrections to my thinking) of other people spending their days on these Memory Machines. The excitement level is infectious!
For example: the discussion on the MOIA list this week about the proposal out of Sweden to produce (reproduce?) anti-matter. First problem: how would you store it. Come join us!
This article was compiled by Rod Amis, who moderates the MOIA Discussion List.
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