In a fit of reliving the glory days of my sci-fi youth, I spent the past few months re-watching Star Trek Deep Space 9. While diving back into that world of The Dominion, Cardassian Wars, and Starfleet ships with illegal cloaking devices, I contemplated the vision of the future as seen through the eyes of the 1990s versus our version of it today. While we’ve made many advancements — from mobile phones, computing, and other forms of glorious machines and experiences — what struck me was how far away from the level of 100% immersion there could be when it comes to consumable entertainment compared to the vision we saw in the The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager series.
In that iteration of the future, we have a core system of planets that want for nothing. We only get a glimpse of the lives of civilians in the Star Trek Universe with the DS9 series, but in it we find a group of people who spend most of their “work” time aiding the betterment of society Their off-work time, however, takes on all sorts of forms, including the infamous Holo-deck, a centerpiece of all New Generation-era Trek stories. The holodeck allowed for scenarios to be run no matter what was dreamt up: the player (Picard, Worf, Sisko, et al) would always be fully immersed in the simulation. It was simply an extension of reality and essentially indistinguishable from it. There was no separation from simulation and the player. For all intents and purposes it was reality itself.
In light of this dream, the latest news from this year’s E3 is beyond exciting because it’s giving us our first legitimate glimpse at the ultimate end game: Virtual Reality gaming.
We’ve seen representations of VR in fiction for years upon years now, but I’m of the belief that the best usage of the technology that matches our imagined future is the one from Star Trek itself: a fully immersive deep dive — with no controls and no separation. Instead, as a player you are directly interacting with the environment itself; with your hands and not an avatar of them. Make no mistake, this generation of goodies isn’t quite the promised land of Holo suites, Holo decks, and the Holo Novels and programs that run in them, but we are building momentum to a conclusion I feel is inevitable to the future of gaming. Or at least, it’s where I hope we do.
When looking at the history of video game consoles from the Atari 2600 all the way on down to the the current generations of Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One, something interesting came to mind. While the graphics, textures, and animation that our current-gen systems are capable of is impressive, they aren’t quite as noteworthy — or as close to a significant leap — from the previous. Or, maybe it’s just that while the games’ looks are improving, the gameplay remains restrictive. For all the wow and excitement of Uncharted for instance, it mostly provided us with a similar experience as the first 3 games in the series — just with an increased resolution and polygon count. We are still, for the most part, tied to controllers and keyboards and sometimes motion sensors. But when oh when will we get to live in the world directly instead of by proxy as we are now?
With the announcement of Project Morpheus’ Summer Lesson, we’re getting our first look at an experience that can play out — for lack of a better term — in the Matrix. Since the dawn of play we’ve collectively searched and longed for a way that we can be a part of the stories we enjoy instead of passively experiencing them. This is our first step to that glorious future. And it’s important because there’s a funny thing about games and stories: while they are ostensibly meant for our entertainment, they also help us discover the nature of our humanity at our core. By devising experiences that wouldn’t happen to us otherwise, we can create a test bed to see what happens when x meets y. For example: you’ve (probably) never been told you were the last wielder of the mystical force by an aged, old wizard, but by imagining it through story and experiencing it in your imagination you can posit what you might do or how you would react. And this helps you find out more about yourself and how you tick.
A Star Trek world of gaming is even more fun because the games are not only immersive from a physical/digital sense, but they are also immersive from a story sense. The games or entertainment that you play are tailored to you: your likes, dislikes, predispositions, and interests. This is desirable because a tailored experience dives deeper into what makes you individually tick, as opposed to an experience for the masses that will touch on some points but misses others that are unique to you. So while your friend might be the leader of an expedition to the top of Mount Everest, you might end up choosing to be one of the adventurers that goes off on his or her own way. Everybody gets to play and have a peak experience catering to them.
Rethinking how we play games will bring on more innovation, propelling us even further down the road towards a Star Trek-ized gaming reality. From inventions like Occulus Rift and Google Glass, to even the most basic of motion-based sensor controls, today we’re still playing our games from outside the system, but one day we very well might be playing from inside it.
And that’s just so very cool.
What are some of the innovations you’re looking forward to in a Star Trek future? Let us know in the comments!
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