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Intravenous gaming

The art of the film and the art of the game is to convincingly draw you into its world. This is why I think hard drugs are the future of interactive entertainment.

Thanks to the War-on-Drugs-inspired total blackout of research into psychoactive drugs, we mostly don't have a clue what they do or why they do it. After The Revolution, I expect pharmaceutical companies to join hands with entertainment companies to create the ultimate audiovisual spectacle.

Highly-tuned designer drugs should be able to induce very precise effects on the brain, such as making you cry during a sad film, making you laugh during a comedy, increasing your heartbeat while playing Counterstrike, or scrambling your vision while watching the end of 2001.

What's that? You think that's cheating? Humbug. I'm sure there were still photographers who thought that motion pictures were not real photography. I'm sure there have been writers complaining that slang is not real language. These purists see art as an end, but it's really a means with which to transmit a powerful gestalt into your head. Movies manipulate you. High definition film, good direction, immersive audio, tricksy writing, and sexy stars are all merely tools of manipulation, all carefully designed to induce that emotional state in your mind. Why should chemicals not be another tool for filmmakers?

OK, that's a slightly more extreme proposition than I was aiming for. There is indeed an argument that a work of art should be a self-contained object which can be studied without prejudice. In fact, art as passive entertainment must by definition be so, otherwise it would be interactive.

Interactive art is another matter. This type of art - the game - deeply involves the player, who cannot just sit back and take in the game, since the game's purpose is to suck him into the virtual world. The player's mind is being purposefully manipulated - computer graphics are a big trick to fool the mind into thinking it's There. Designer drugs could be a powerful addition to the creative toolbox of the game designer.

Why should the latest GPU waste cycles doing antialiasing when a drug can simply fool your brain into thinking it's seeing smooth edges? Neuroscience will take tremendous leaps forward when the effects of drugs can be rigorously documented, and I believe there is great potential for offloading visual processing directly into the brain. The graphics hardware of the brain can clearly be decoupled from the eyes; just think of dreams. We can dream about cars in great detail because we've seen and know all about cars in great detail. If you could concoct a drug to put the brain into a dreamlike state and then suggest the concept of cars, you could almost do away with computer-computed visuals altogether. Imagine getting the brain to auto-render graphics for old text adventures!

There is a snag: we can only dream precisely about things we've seen. To build an out-of-this-world game scenario would either require training in a studio (analogous to loading textures and geometry into video RAM) or research into the process by which the brain creates new imagery from old. This latter technique is certainly used by the brain. Who has never had a dream featuring surreal fusions of otherwise everyday experiences?

The ability to experience creative games would be linked to your own imagination; some people can have a spaceship described to them and visualise it in stunning detail, but others just think of some lame blob they saw on Star Trek.

I'll stop speculating on the form that psychotropic gaming will take since I haven't the faintest idea how the technology would really work. All I know is what every scientist knows: we need more research.

Counterpoint

Pursuant to Brave New World and The Terminal Man, the most popular game will be the one that gives you a drug that makes you think you're playing a good game. It'll be $69.99 on the Xbox 3. (Countercounterpoint: people don't just play games to bliss out, and even if in the future they do, brain-rendered user interfaces will be useful.)

Additionally, all this assumes that the useful properties of chemical drugs can be separated from the harmful side effects. You'd want some serious third-party oversight to make sure nVidia isn't cutting your LSDFX6800 with rat-poison.

At the end of the day, Barney said it best:

Just hook it to my veins!

Comments

  1. dave, on Monday 15th November 2004, said:

    "put the brain into a dreamlike state and then suggest the concept of cars" sounds like a precise description of hypnosis. "getting the brain to auto-render graphics for old text adventures!" sounds pretty straightforward if you hired a hypnotist to do a good induction that fused the gamepad to your hand for the duration of the game and read out all the scenarios with appropriate prompts. Sounds like a winner to me :)

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