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Preparing for the Next Big Games Controversy
by Ben Serviss on 01/24/13 09:30:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This article originally appeared on dashjump.com.

Oculus Rift at CES
Anthony Canepa tries to catch virtual snowflakes while demoing the Oculus Rift at CES. Click for video.

In the wake of national tragedies, games are back in the spotlight as the scapegoat. And while it’s tiresome to once again be on the defense against clueless pundits slinging unwarranted blame in the name of higher ratings, there’s something warmly familiar about being in the public eye as the bad boy. Because we’ve been here before – and if you take a look at what the future holds for the game industry, you’ll quickly realize that we’ll be here many times again in the future.you’ll quickly realize that we’ll be here many times again in the future.

If you look back at the history of the media blaming videogames, recognizable patterns start to emerge. Let’s take a look at some high-profile instances:

game-controversy

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s easy to identify some of the reasons behind the media’s repeat negative attention and blame directed toward the games industry. Technological advances that allow games more realistic graphics open the door for more realistic depictions of violence and sexual content; social malcontents who go on to do unspeakable things, yet play the same games as millions of others, are cited as cautionary tales for overexposure to games; and the very real occurrence of videogame addiction has risen in prominence in the US and abroad, fueling distressed calls to neuter the capabilities of the medium as a whole.

Yet nothing will prepare the industry for the social backlash that may come in the near future. 

“Oh my god, this is crazy… It's exactly like what you would think the Matrix is.”

It looks exciting. It looks innovative. It could allow a sweeping number of innovations in videogames that haven’t been attempted due to technology barriers. 

At CES, the Oculus Rift was available for some attendees to try. There’s a video circulating of a few attendees trying out the hyped VR headset, focusing on their dumbfounded reactions on being immersed in, what seems to be, the promise of virtual reality finally brought to life. It looks exciting. It looks innovative. It could allow a sweeping number of innovations in videogames that haven’t been attempted due to technology barriers. 

John Carmack and the Oculus Rift
John Carmack demos a prototype of the Oculus Rift at E3 2012.

And, given the proper mix of circumstances, it could also bring the wrath of the public down on the industry like never before.

"If you're, standing you'd have - your body, your brain just naturally tell you ‘start walking.’”

Imagine the first time somebody puts on the Oculus Rift and, totally enveloped by a virtual world, walks into a door. Or into the street. These are terrible things to have to consider, especially since the unique experiences that will be made possible by this technology look sublime, but if we don’t start thinking about them now, the next Joe Liebermans and Jack Thompsons anxious to blame the industry for more endemic problems will do it for us.

On the other hand, what if the Oculus Rift fails? That doesn’t prevent what’s to come – not with Google Glass and the fruits of Valve’s experiments in VR and wearable computing on the way. The industry is taking tentative but meaningful steps toward virtual and augmented reality, and for the first time, we have the technology to do it right. 

“When you put headphones on and you're in the game with this thing–” “We lose some reporters that way.”

There will be first-person strangling games. There will be sex games. There will be vertigo-inducing simulations that will make players nauseous, or worse. How we prepare for their emergence, and our response to the world at large, is critical to making sure this next step for our industry continues its transition from a niche activity to a global cultural juggernaut, while preventing the more extreme examples from drawing attention away from the significant, meaningful cultural experiences that are being created.

Ben Serviss is a freelance game designer working in commercial, social, educational and indie games. Follow him on Twitter at @benserviss.


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Comments


Michael Joseph
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"social malcontents who go on to do unspeakable things, yet play the same games as millions of others, are cited as cautionary tales for overexposure to games; and the very real occurrence of videogame addiction has risen in prominence in the US and abroad, fueling distressed calls to neuter the capabilities of the medium as a whole."
--

Hmmm... tactics.

Perhaps the answer is right there? In the face of increasing global stress in this reality, the first line of defense against mass uprisings is placation of the masses with escapism into fantasy realities. One could argue that games, tv, roku, and other soma, have prevented mass shootings by helping to keep people entertained and sidetracked and for stalling their righteous social malcontentedness until the teeth have fallen out.

Can also borrow tactics from the gun industry and blame some other devil! They blame games, we blame alcohol! Alcohol has fueled a heckofalot more tragedies than games right? Before there was the boob tube there was booze. If booze can get away with centuries of corrupting minors, then surely games can too.

It's going to be easy. There are well established patterns for defending vice peddling.

Ian Morrison
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I certainly wouldn't like video games to be considered a vice, nor do I think they're really worthy of the label any more than books or movies are.

Michael Joseph
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I was having a little bit of fun in that. Although, to paraphrase Chris Hecker, I don't think games are up there with books in general but more the narrow "cultural ghetto" of reading material where we find things like comics and teen magazines.

Ian Morrison
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Looking at the state of the game industry now... I'm not sure that's fair. I think I'd have agreed with you a few short years ago, but it's tough to look at the industry as it stands now and not see the huge leap in variety and sophistication of experiences. You've still got the games that remain stupid and mindless, but we're starting to see thoughtful and varied experiences even in the triple A space. The weighting and distribution of that variety is badly skewed, but it does the industry a disservice to ignore the changes that are happening.

I think it's more fair to say that the "cultural ghetto" is where games WERE, and in fact where they're still crawling out of. There's a lot of work to be done, but it's happening.

It's also worth saying that "The cultural ghetto" isn't a good reason to dismiss things. Even if comics are in that ghetto (which I would argue strongly against) you only need to read any of Scott McCloud's books to see that what they COULD be is something incredible and valuable.

...Sorry about that.I realize you were joking around and having fun with it, but I couldn't let a good rant go to waste. ^_^

Mike Griffin
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You'll probably have to stand people up inside one of those upright, waist-level "people holders" with a padded ring around the top for people to gently bump into. Make it height-adjustable for folks ranging from kids to basketball players.

That, or the ultimate safety mechanism might be to suspend people in a body harness (think Lawnmower Man) a couple feet off the ground so there's no risk of walking off a ledge, into traffic, etc.

For entertainment franchises (like laser tag venues adopting "VR arenas"), you go full out and invest in spheres that people climb into, with multi-directional treadmills to simulate running movement.

All of this awkwardness will play out for about a decade, after which we'll be jacking our brains directly into simulations with the aid of neural interfaces and "sim drugs."

We'll be so enthralled by these alternate universes, we'll scarcely notice when our future cybernetic overseers go Skynet on our asses, using VR to enslave the masses in vast labor factories.

Historians will look back to 2013 and the introduction of the Oculus Rift as the turning point.

Have fun with it now, during the golden era of VR innocence!

kevin Williams
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Sadly this feature was a little myopic.

No mention of the arcade controversies from 'Space Invaders addiction' to the first VR complaints with the launch of the first Virtuality systems.

It is a shame that video journos seem to avoid commenting on the synergy between arcade gaming and current console content.

Merc Hoffner
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Anyone else thinking Red Dwarf?


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