In 1983, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released, introducing a technological marvel that hooked an entire generation of gamers. Imagine what it would be like to show one of today’s 4K-resolution, VR-capable powerhouses to someone from that era, who believed Super Mario Bros. was about as high-tech as video games could get.
It’s taken 35 years to make that leap, and we keep inching forward in terms of graphical capabilities, but the next 35 years of video game development are going to challenge our assumptions about what video games are, and potentially revolutionize the way we play them.
In the distant future, we might not even use a screen.
The Benefits of Immersion
There are many ingredients that make a perfect game. A compelling story, a decent challenge curve, high-quality technical execution, and uniqueness are all important, but none of those are dependent on advancing technology.
Everything we think of as advancing along with technical capabilities (such as better graphics, higher-quality sound, and realistic landscapes) are part of the same goal: immersion. Immersion is important because it helps a player block out the rest of the world, and offers them a more engaging, and therefore more emotional and stimulating experience. It’s why the majority of businesses, from clothing stores to museums, are starting to offer more in-depth, first-person experiences.
Today’s consoles and PC games are capable of providing better graphics than ever before, but there’s a fundamental limit to how immersed you can be in an experience that’s projected on a screen. As the demand for higher immersion grows, the screen will eventually disappear, replaced by more immersive mediums.
What a Screenless Future Might Look Like
So what could these immersive mediums be, and what might a future without screens look like for gamers? The process will likely be a gradual one, branching out into several directions before ultimately landing on one path.
These are just some of the possibilities:
- Headsets. Virtual reality (VR) headsets haven’t taken off as quickly as experts anticipated, but strong sales and support from practically every major gaming juggernaut means they’ll probably be sticking around—and improving—for the foreseeable future. VR has its own kind of screen, but because it responds to player’s head movements, it doesn’t offer the same barriers to immersion that conventional screens do. This technology is still in its early stages of development, but it’s already making waves—and could represent the near future of video game advancement.
- Glasses. Google attempted to create a pair of augmented reality (AR) goggles a few years ago, but the market wasn’t ready for such an advancement; they’ve since reemerged, but aren’t a revolutionary new technology so much as they are a logical step forward in AR progress. AR games would rely on a player’s natural surroundings (at least to some degree) to give them more interactive, physical-digital hybrid experiences. Currently, casual AR games like Pokemon Go are a hit with smartphone owners, but these rely on the screen of a mobile device for interaction, and therefore limit a player’s immersion. Future games would give AR glasses wearers a much more in-depth gaming experience.
- Projections. Modern holographic projection technology isn’t very far along, but if sufficiently developed, could represent a new kind of gaming. It could be like AR, but without the need for glasses or any kind of wearable device. In heavily equipped settings, it may even be possible to holographically simulate entire environments, rather than individual objects or characters.
- Haptic feedback. If you’ve played a game with vibration support for your controller, you’ve experienced some degree of haptic feedback. The feature has been so immersive and so well-supported that you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern game that doesn’t offer at least some level of functionality here. But the future could be a much more immersive kind of haptic feedback, with a full-body suit giving you sensory information based on what’s happening around you in a digital environment. In the early stages, a haptic suit like this could serve as an accompaniment to an otherwise standard AR or VR experience, giving players sensory data to complement what they’re seeing and hearing. But many years, or even decades after this initial development, these suits could provide even more detailed sensory inputs, helping players feel specific textures, temperatures, and other sensations.
It’s hard to say how long it will take to see tech advancements on a scale that makes screenless video games a reality, but it’s a future we’re reliably marching toward. We’ve already seen the emergence and acceptance of VR as a powerful gaming enhancement tool, so it’s only a matter of time before innovators and engineers take the next steps toward more immersive digital experiences.