I’m one of those people who is genuinely excited for virtual reality gaming, but then I get genuinely excited for any weird new control scheme in gaming, be it a Wiimote, touch screen, analog sticks, pressure sensitive buttons, or any of the other cool and debatably-useful-but-definitely-underutilized controller gimmicks we’ve seen in the past decade of gaming. I even liked 3D gaming, and I wrote a couple articles several years ago about the unique issues facing 3D games. After finally being able to play some VR games at PAX Prime this year, I think that it’s worth comparing and contrasting this new gimmick/hook with that latter gimmick/hook. 3D and VR make for interesting contrasts because they seem to have the exact opposite problem from one another when it comes to selling themselves to a wide audience.
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This piece contains spoilers for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
At times, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture feels very grounded. Despite it being a story about a supernatural visitor that causes the population of a small English town to inexplicably vanish, the world and its inhabitants often feel authentic. However, due to the way that you interact with and learn about the world, this feeling of “being there” is inconsistent. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a story about humanity, but the tools that you use to understand the story are unfortunately alienating.
In my last post, I explored our views, as humans, about artificial intelligence and our contradictions in holding those views. I made mention of the three main players of the game The Fall, all machines, and the ways in which they emulate humans. We have made machines in our own image to one degree or another, and the game seems to be itself a representation of our fear of the machines owning that emulation of ourselves. Instead of following our orders and having their choices and identity dictated by our control, the machines move beyond their simple base parameters and try to become their own beings.
I’d argue that only ARID, the protagonist of The Fall, succeeds in attaining such consciousness by accepting the most human trait of all, self contradiction. But even in the limited emulations of humanity of the System Administrator and the Caretaker, there is still insight about what they see in us: what an intelligence, alien to our own, sees and thinks of human behavior through what they mimic in us and how they mimic it.
When I started writing seriously about games in 2002, most of what was being written about video games came largely in the form of previews and product reviews. Video games were still largely being covered as a form of entertainment, but largely anyone, like myself, pondering whether or not the medium might be more than a frivolous way of passing time existed only in fairly small numbers in pockets of the Internet.
As the decade progressed, though, more and more bloggers appeared asking questions similar to my own about whether or not video games were not just a pastime, but also an art form. Many mainstream gaming web sites began including essays of a more critical (that is, “critical” in the sense of art criticism) nature alongside the more traditional offerings of screen shots and consumer information about video games. Infamously, Roger Ebert declared that video games were not art, but by the mid 2000s, there were an awful lot of writers, some journalists, some academics, and some enthusiasts, talking about video games, their stories, their mechanisms, and even their possible aesthetics using that very term.
A few weekends ago a few friends and I went to a live-action version of the “Escape the Room” genre of video games. This one was called Trapped in a Room with a Zombie: Still Hungry. For the uninitiated, “Escape the Room” games are a form of puzzle game in which the player is locked in a room and must escape. Often times the room will at first appear normal, but over time and after exploration of the room, the player finds clues and riddles that will lead them to a means of escape. The live-action equivalent, which I had not heard of until a friend told me about it early this summer, is very similar, but instead of being set in a virtual space, it is set in a physical one.
What makes the live-action version much more tense is that there is a time limit and often the puzzle is far too grand for a single person to solve in a reasonable amount of time. Thus, a group of players must work as a team if they want to escape. The extra twist in the version that I experienced, Trapped in a Room with a Zombie: Still Hungry, was that the room included a guy dressed up as a zombie who would remove any player from participating (outside of standing in the corner and talking) in the game if he touched them. He was chained to the wall, but his chain would grow longer every five minutes. So, the players had to not only solve the riddles but avoid the zombie in the process.
// Notes from the Road
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