The PS4 was announced last night and it solidified some of the thoughts I’d been having about games recently. I write this as someone who likes games, likes technology and technological development and spent a large portion of his adolescence putting pocket money into arcade machines and mushing buttons with my thumbs.
The ps4 looks impressive etc. but all of the games don’t look conceptually different from the ps1, they’ve just got nicer pixels. The console race is a race to have higher tech numbers. If realism is the aim of games, where do you go once you’ve achieved that? I just don’t see anything new here. I can only see technical innovation, without any unique creative application.
Now, this isn’t to say that technical innovation is in itself a bad thing. I’m no Luddite and would probably say if I’m pushed that I’m in favour of looms. Later in the year, Microsoft will announce their latest box and the race to have the highest numbers will continue. I think that for the large part, this will divide people into the Sony and Microsoft camps, people choosing sides and advocating the supremacy of their chosen machine and the sluggish unreliability of the other, exactly the same way that they did last time, and the same way that iOS and Android, Mac & PC users and owners of cats and dogs squabble. That’s fine, I’m not advocating one side or another here, I’m not interested in that.
So if this is a race towards higher numbers and the attainment of a level of graphic realism or fidelity then it means that we have to question what happens next. Here’s a scenario. Say we achieve the most perfect photorealism in games; rendering that makes you gasp, pixels so sharp that your eyes bleed, controllers that are perhaps invisible, without lag or batteries yet an absolute ergonomic delight and an integrated social media strategy that means you never have to leave the house again. The games for this console are as good at replicating reality as reality is at being real. In this scenario, we’ve made it. It doesn’t even have a weird humming fan noise and there is no such thing as a loading screen. Real technological bliss. The Best Console That Ever There Was.
What do you do with it?
Imagine you have complete control over absolutely every conceivable configurable of atoms under the visible spectrum. Let’s call this MegaHD. Do you still make ‘Call of Duty MegaHD’? What about ‘Call of Duty MegaHD 2’? Without the technological push towards realism, what is it that games are trying to achieve? With no hardware or software barriers, what are the ideal game experiences you want people to engage with? How do you continue to innovate in the experiences that people have in game worlds if you aren’t chasing polygon counts any more? If every game developed in MegaHD is as beautifully stunning as the next, what is the thing that makes one game stand out as being special? How would games have to innovate in this market to be profitable?
The thing I keep coming back to is this; I don’t think that technical supremacy is equal to creative application. The world’s nicest paintbrush isn’t going to necessarily make the world’s nicest painting and a really fast car doesn’t make you a good driver.While the PS4 and Xbox 361 (or whatever it will be called) are both going to be undoubtedly incredible machines, I’m not holding my breath to see graphs, performance statistics or comparison charts. The numbers aren’t really the interesting bit and to be honest they are distracting from the key point I’m trying to make. I want to see games made for humans, not computers. Games for computers push technological limits, but games for humans should be designed to provoke human responses.
There are incredible opportunities for innovating in gameplay and the way that people engage emotionally with characters, stories, environments and systems. This doesn’t all depend entirely on the next generation of amazing machines, it depends on the creative endeavours of people using this technology to make games for humans.