Not a murder simulator
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 March 2016, 5:33 am
I am not yet totally convinced that virtual reality devices are the future of gaming, and there are some serious challenges to overcome. But if we imagine that in a few years everybody is playing with VR goggles on instead of in front of a screen, what does that mean for the games that we play? If our experience with virtual worlds becomes "more real", do we still want the same virtual worlds and game mechanics that we have now?

Developers are starting to think about it. At the GDC 2016 there was a talk about the fact that sexual harassment becomes a lot worse when it happens in VR as opposed to on a screen. But personally I was thinking of something else: Even in the absences of perverts and griefers, what kind of virtual lives do people want to live?

I spent my weekend playing the excellent Stardew Valley, which is an indie game on Steam that resembles (and improves upon) the console game Harvest Moon. Not futuristic VR graphics, but pixelated 2D graphics. But what stood out most when playing the game was that I was never ever killing anything while playing it. In my huge Steam library there are very, very few games which don't involve killing enemies, be that AI-controlled "monsters" or other players. Sure, no actual blood is spilled, but do we really want all of our games to be murder simulators?

In real life some people use their holiday to go out and kill stuff. But that is a rather small percentage of all tourists. Most people prefer to travel to just see things and do different peaceful activities for the experience of it instead of killing things. A cynic might remark that this could be because hunting people is illegal in real life, and computer games thus offer an opportunity that you don't otherwise have. But if you look at all games having beautiful 3D virtual worlds you can visit, you'll find that the percentage of them which aren't murder simulators is tiny. Surely there must be a bigger demand for virtual experiences that aren't about killing!

And virtual reality might be the tipping point in a development towards more peaceful games. We know that soldiers, in spite of having trained for it, and in this day and age certainly having killed stuff in games, can suffer from PTSD when actually killing somebody for real for the first time. If VR makes the virtual experience more visceral, then maybe more people will to some degree feel uncomfortable with killing, especially killing virtual humans in a gory fashion. And that could give rise to totally new gameplay mechanics, e.g. a photo safari game where getting close to the animals without disturbing them is as important as the "aiming and shooting" part. We could have virtual world tours as time management games (comparable to 80 Days but in 3D VR). And there sure are lots of other ideas where the virtual reality can be used to create great experiences that don't involve killing. Murder simulators will always have their place in gaming, but not every game has to be one.
Tobold's Blog

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