You are walking around a forest in your hometown with some friends. Suddenly some orcs come out of the trees waving their axes and clubs menacingly. Thankfully, your group is prepared. You start to shower arrows on the orcs while your wizard friend does the incantations to launch a fireball at them. Your two warrior friends receive their charge shields up while your healer does a circle of protection ritual. You quickly dispatch them and find a map leading to the lair of the Orc King, just below the highway crossing, a very smart location to hide it.
Now imagine, you are an old couple just strolling through the woods. You see another group of those crazy Real WoW players. Decked in full body suits and AR Googles. Suddenly they start moving like crazy in a commotion. Some are doing what looks like Pilates or Yoga to you, while others are running and violently flailing their arms. You sigh, after all, it is better than if they were at home. At least they are ultra fit and enjoying the countryside. You also know they won’t bother you, as the enhanced reality world keeps them from getting near non-players. However, you still yearn for simpler times in which reality was just reality.
This scenario doesn’t have to be technically far away. As we have discussed in the Integrated Reality speculations, AR is much closer to providing presence, immersion, and embodiment than VR. This would require some kind of bodysuit (there are some in development out there) and an AR display. The narrative part is very well solved already in games like World of Warcraft (the most popular massive multiplayer online game that has kept close to 10 million paying customers for many years) that could be translated easily to a 3D AR scenario.
Integrated Reality will be undoubtedly the new medium for entertainment. Taking the experience to a whole other level from video and audio. It will be a jump comparable to that from a book to a film. We have seen plenty of futuristic portrayals in science fiction:
- Ready Player One’s scenario of complete VR immersion based on full body suits and a hamster wheel-like contraption will still take time.
- The Japanese series Sword Art Online pictures a full mind-machine interface, that is even able to kill you if you fail in the game. The full sensorial mind-machine interface still looks very distant from today’s technology
- Even beyond, in Christopher Nolan’s Inception we see a technology that is so immersive that it becomes absolutely impossible to distinguish reality from fiction, and you can even go several levels into and out of reality.
The AR Wow scenario portrayed above is far more realistic, and it builds mostly on existing technologies. This is something we could have happening soon if some enterprising media fan puts together a theme park seeting. It would also be a big improvement on many fronts from the current escapist addiction into computer games that is silently conquering many in the western world.
First, the entertainment and production values of an AR immersive game would be much better. Taking a computer game into reality could allow us to make it much more appealing and even to include some educational or cultural content that not only entertains but also develops. Hopefully, the increased attractiveness of AR would compensate the typical negative reaction to the educational content.
Furthermore, the health impact of full body movement games could be amazing. Most of the world’s most prevalent medical conditions in the western world could be cured with daily exercise. Games like WoW have shown that they can snare people for much longer than the 30’ per day necessary according to most health experts. Tailoring the required moves in the game and leveraging the full body suit could easily make people go through the strength, cardiovascular and flexibility exercise that is key for long-term health. Imagine pilates for spells and push-ups for consuming healing potions.
On top of that, the game could reward environmentally friendly or prosocial behavior like picking trash or removing flammable material from forests. It could even go a step further and reward full-scale restoration of habitats with tree planting. Gamers waste uncounted hours nowadays in mindless “farming” for virtual goods. We could keep the “farming” but make it useful in the real world.
Finally, a game like this could reconnect people socially and to their environment. The value of close physical proximity to others working towards a common goal is difficult to overemphasize. This could create social bonds and reduce isolation. It can also be used to guide people to nature and wonderful settings which they would experience as the backdrop to the game.
Overall, AR “real-world” gaming could have an incredible impact on our society. Take the power of games and entertainment and transform it into something useful and helpful for well-being. We are not far from this scenario, but it needs significant ingenuity and social engineering to make it happen.