How will the evolution of video games influence the products we surround ourselves with in the future?

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At Seymourpowell we look to a number of industries for inspiration. We find these are often the best places to start in order to understand different cultures and how these may affect other industries.
ROB KIRBY Senior Design Researcher, Seymourpowell

Books, films, and fashion trends are all influenced by the gaming industry – for example, Prada recently teamed up with video game publisher Square Enix to use Final Fantasy characters to model their spring/summer 2012 collection.
So what could a recent shift towards extremely sophisticated gaming experiences mean for our products? Ever since ‘Doom’ and ‘Quake’ defined shooter games as fast-paced and gory with groundbreaking texture mapping and polygonal graphics, many titles have strived to achieve a similar level of success. The main weapon in modern titles’ arsenal, such as ‘Call of Duty’, ‘Gears of War’ and ‘Battlefield’ has been the graphics – making games feel bigger, better and more realistic than ever with crystal clear renderings. But these visually stunning titles still offered gameplay from the Dark Ages; bulletproof characters continued to dodge dramatic Hollywood explosions.

To complete the realism of the experience the gameplay needed to evolve just as much as the graphics had. It is this slow-changing tide that is now gathering momentum and not just in the gaming world; on-screen we’re seeing films being transformed with a long overdue injection of intelligence making them much more cerebral, think Jason Bourne for example. If we rewind over ten years, a key title that started this movement was ‘Halo’, a franchise now owned by Microsoft Studios. They simply limited the number of weapons a player could carry to two. This miniscule change was the start of the journey to realism. More recently ‘Operation Flashpoint’ by Codemasters stripped their military game back to just the bare essentials to distance themselves from the monotonous ‘run-and-gun’ format. They removed features such as auto-aim, detailed maps, unavoidable targets and the ability to be shot an impossible number of times. This added a new dimension to the game by making it much more tactical and strategic – players were forced to conserve ammo, lead a unit of soldiers, run recon missions and desperately avoid fields of bullet fire – just as one would in the real world.

‘Dead Space’ by Electronic Arts then took this one step further by limiting ammo and making even the killing of enemies strategic – something the creators termed ‘strategic dismemberment’. I’m sure you can imagine what that involves. Furthermore, the Atari survival horror title ‘Alone in the Dark’ is set in complete real-time, meaning that the baddies didn’t stop running at you even while you’re reloading or hot-wiring a car. Most recently, Ubisofts’ survival title ‘I Am Alive’ pushed this realism even further by encouraging you to use nearby objects and materials as makeshift weapons – anything from shattered glass to fence posts. This resourcefulness is loosely being mirrored in the real world as well with a huge surge in survival training courses – it seems that knowing how to handle yourself and survive in the wilderness is equally as important as being able to drive a car or sync your iPhone. This, often extreme, depiction of realism stretches the experience and brings it closer to real-life. After all, how many occasions would you have an array of weaponry to choose from while an attacker sprints menacingly towards you?
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Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2012. All rights reserved.

Such advancements have made these fantasy experiences much more immersive, dialing up the realism beyond just looking real. But what could all this mean for our products? One thing this movement shows is an unquenchable thirst for immersive and realistic experiences. For us at Seymourpowell our role as product innovators includes experience design. Mobile phones are no longer products in the traditional sense; they are a gateway to an enriching digital experience that starts from the second the packaging is opened. And just as technology marches on we expect many products and services to be much more immersive. This will undoubtedly change the industry even down to how skillsets are taught in the future, as the design of the experience is as equally important as the physical design itself. But if this is the case, it also begs the question – how realistic do these experiences need to be? It has long been argued that an increased level of immersion, realism and violence in gaming is a step too far – ‘Doom’ was linked to the Columbine High School Massacre, and there have been countless ‘Natural Born Killers’ copycat murders. So if such experiences are becoming more extreme to vie for our attention, does this mean the experiences we will demand from our products will become equally as extreme as we become desensitised to it? Ultimately, the role of the entertainment industry is to offer a very quick escape from reality with a deeply immersive fantasy experience. And if ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Resident Evil’ are anything to go by we know how quickly these can spread throughout other industries. But if the dawn of extreme survival gaming follows a similarly contagious pattern, at what point do these experiences stop becoming an escape and start to become the norm in our reality? And more to the point, could this become an expected part of our product experiences? Back in 2004, ‘Is this your future?’ by Dunne & Raby demonstrated what ‘new’ ideas on the future of energy could look like if they were produced at a scale of mass consumerism.
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This was to question whether our perception of these ideas would change if they were produced on a larger scale. One particular part of this exhibition, ‘Blood/Meat Energy Future’ involved a mouse being fed to a TV in order to turn it on (http://www.dunneandraby.co.uk/content/ projects/68/0). Although this was tongue-incheek it was still slightly scary – what if products with a slightly sinister edge become a reality? With survival gaming showing there is an appetite for such extreme and realistic experiences, this is perhaps not entirely inconceivable. For most there is a clear distinction between fantasy and reality so these are likely to remain very separate. But as these boundaries are constantly being tested to heighten experiences, how do we ensure these experiences remain enriched but very much separate from our physical product landscape? Or should we accept that such a dystopian vision will one day be a part of our products?

These fantasy experiences are much more immersive, dialling up the realism beyond just looking real.

For more information, please contact Tim Duncan - tim.duncan@seymourpowell.com

Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2012. All rights reserved.

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