future-of-gaming-2Future games will become the ultimate playground for our minds

In 1977 when famed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot uttered the phrase, “as a language, mathematics may be used not only to inform but also to seduce,” little did he know that his brainchild, fractal geometry, would become seductive to the point of being addictive.

Over the past decade, fractal geometry, the science that reduces the patterns found in nature to mathematical formulas and also enables us to create artificial forms of nature using the same math, has become the numerical engine driving much of the gaming industry, and more specifically, the hottest technique in gaming – procedural generation. Placing key creative elements in the hands of the player, procedural generation means the game doesn’t store millions of characters and background images, just the methods by which they can be built, leaving the gamers free to focus on creating the worlds in which their next adventures occur.

Where brilliant thinkers like da Vinci, H. G. Wells, and Mandelbrot inspired much of the world around us today, the world of tomorrow, the very world where we will be spending the later years of our lives, is now being imagined inside the young minds of today’s gamers as they learn to harness the awesome power hiding in each gamer’s toolbox.

SimCity founder Will Wright

When SimCity founder Will Wright introduced his latest project, Spore, demonstrating the next generation organic content builder at the TED conference in 2007, he not only turned heads, but radically shifted the thinking of the entire gaming industry. Whereas procedural generation had been used on a smaller scale in earlier games like kkrieger, Soldier of Fortune, and Doom 3, Spore goes far beyond the in-world limits of most virtual worlds and allows users to build and experiment with the entire range of existence, from ameba-like creatures on one end, to whole new galaxies on the other.

The playful creatures and worlds being created inside Spore offer much more than a sandbox for the creative mind. They become a working laboratory for testing ideas and strategy; They allow escape from a world where players have far less control, and entry into a world where players harness god-like powers and have unlimited control as the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world begin to blur along as we take a glimpse at what will become tomorrow’s extreme gaming experiences.

Game designer, Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal, a game designer that MIT Technology Review named as one of the top 35 innovators changing the world, and an expert at blurring traditional boundaries, focuses on how the games we play can change the way we experience the real world. One of her best known projects is World Without Oil (2007), a massively collaborative simulation of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis that first establishes a citizen “nerve center” to track events and share solutions. While there are distinct differences between environments we play with and ones we physically experience, the game gives participants some idea of how people will react, and also go a long ways to sensitizing people to specific issues. Her motto gets to the heart of the matter: “Play it before you live it!”

Another McGonigal game, Cruel 2 B Kind (2006), is a real-world assassination game that replaced weapons with random acts of kindness, and at the same time replaces game interfaces with revolutionizing new notions of what a game can be.

The Nintendo Wii, with its unusual interface devices for bowling, archery, and Guitar Hero, will soon look like ancient pale in comparison to the unusual ways we will be connecting in the virtual and not-so-virtual worlds of the future.

Brain Ball at WIRED Magazine’s 2007 NextFest

At WIRED Magazine’s 2007 NextFest, special headbands measuring brainwaves served at the controllers for a game called “Brain Ball.” “Brain Ball” is a relaxation game where two players face off to try to move a small white ball across the table, with the ball moving towards the player with the most relaxed brain waves.

Emotiv’s mind-control headset

But it looks like brain-controllers are going mainstream. Emotiv, a company based in San Francisco, says its mind-control headsets will be on shelves later this year, along with a host of novel “biofeedback” games developed by its partners.

Other companies – including EmSense in Monterey, California; NeuroSky in San Jose, California; and Hitachi in Tokyo – are also developing technology to detect players´ brainwaves and use them in next-gen video games.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s new Smart Goggles

Japanese inventor Yasuo Kuniyoshi recently unveiled his invention, Smart Goggles, a pair of glasses designed to capture and record everything a person sees in a day. So, a person who loses their keys can simply have a computer scan through files until it finds where they left their keys. More impressive though is the notion that this device can effectively index the world around us, in a process similar to spidering the web, giving rise to search engines for the physical world.

Procedural generation in some games will take a back seat to auto-generated content created through Smart Goggles. More likely, the two will work side by side building funky McGonigal-imagined environments that are half-real, half-imagined, and simultaneously half auto-generated, and half procedurally generated.

Advancing this notion even further, consider a game designed around the world we live in, only with special visual overlays that make people around us unwitting players, pawns if you will, that we attempt to influence inside our next semi-real adventure. A real-life chess match without the game board. Brain-ball on steroids, created with next-gen fractal geometry, even more seductive and even more addictive.

For now, the only way to predict the future of gaming is to predict that all predictions will be wrong. So relax, everything I just told you is wrong. But then again, you may just be a pawn in my latest game, and I’m just trying to manipulate your thinking.

By Futurist Thomas Frey