Thursday, January 2, 2014

Are The Best Games For IPAD Revolutionizing The Future Of Gaming And Entertainment Technology?

By Mishu Hull

One of the first media of widespread popular computer use was the playing of games. Think Pong and Pac-man. Today a top thriving trend is the touch screen, familiar on smart phones and tablets such as iPad. The juxtaposition of these two trends has raised doubt in many people's mind how compatible they can be.

The easy response would be to point out, since such games exist, where's the evidence for a problem? I've compiled my list of the best games for iPad elsewhere. And yet, this alone doesn't resolve the matter for the games designed for touch screen are often cited as evidence of the problem.

The usual approach is to dis such games on what seems to be the practical impracticality. To put it bluntly, they complain that touch screen games aren't effective because the player's fingers obstruct the view of the screen.

Well, maybe, but perhaps a more central insight is being missed here. The very idea that a tactile interface with the screen is an obstacle may in fact be an increasingly outdated abstraction. Those who play the touch screen are quite possibly the cutting edge not only of a new world of gaming, but in fact of an entirely new human-computer interface.

Before completely unpacking this claim, some context will be helpful. Consider the visceral pleasures of finger painting. I know many will object that serious painters use paint brushes. Fine.

Such a truism though blinds one to the valuable insight available. Who reading these lines has never experienced the joys of poking their fingers into the paint? Can you remember the sensual pleasure of smearing, spreading and indeed even shaping the paint with your finger tips? Really, if you examine it closely, finger painting is less like brush painting than it is akin to sculpture. Children famously revel in it. It provides great satisfaction for adults too though if they can overcome inhibitions against the indulging of child-like pleasures.

Compare that other childhood picture producing technology, the Etch-n-Sketch. I'm not claiming there's not fun in it. It is though a very particular kind of fun: detail-driven and fixated in a vaguely obsessive compulsive way. It's a world away from the uninhibited joy of finger painting. I propose that this sheer joyousness is directly related to the immersion in, not only the finger painting experience, but also into the product of the experience; the very tactile immersion into the medium.

For, if you think about it, the finger painter is not merely painting the picture, but doing so from within the picture. The painter is literally, physically in the picture he is producing. The painting is an extension of the painter. And no less is the painter an extension of the painting. The kind of sublime joy generated by this profoundly immersive experience goes a long way in helping us understand why touch screen gaming is the future of gaming. And not only that, but is a harbinger of the future of human-computer interfacing. With the touch screen game we discover a simulation of the immersive, joyous experience of finger painting.

The sad truth is that those who complain about the absence of buttons and joysticks, mice and keyboards, in such games make themselves just another example in a long story of those that history has left behind. They merely reveal their resentment at the sudden devaluation of the refined skills, into which they have invested so much time, energy and money, only to find their once treasured skills antiquated and obsolete.

It's really no different from photographers complaining about digital cameras, old ink-stained newspaper journalists complaining about the internet, motion picture studios complaining about television, big band musicians complaining about the phonograph, and horse-and-carriage operators complaining about the automobile. Progress marches on and those with investments in the past get passed over. Unless we want to live in some permanent past, though, surely this is a good thing.

And of course superior function, though real enough, isn't even the real issue. The common themes here are more immediate and accessible experiences. Think about the very first person, whoever he was, that connected speakers to his television so as to produce surround sound. Surely he didn't know it, but he was blazing a way down a path which would eventually lead to that day not so far in the future when we'll all experience our favorite programs as total virtual reality scenarios.

It verges on being hackneyed to observe how much we like to "lose ourselves" in our entertainment. We seem to enjoy such recreational diversions most when we feel "wrapped up in it." A major part of the experience is our desire for however briefly to leave behind the concerns of the mundane world. Anthropology knows of no humans who haven't used some kind of intoxicants to alter consciousness. The desire for however brief a refuge in fantasy or wonder appears to be essentially human. It probably explains why we endlessly push our entertainment technology toward the experience of immersion.

The recent explosion in popularity of Wii is a case in point. It illustrates the desire to bathe ourselves in a tactically immersive gaming experience. The immersive experience of the touch screen approaches such immersion in a manner no control console or keyboard ever will. It links the child-like joy of finger painting and the intense pleasures promised by full virtual reality engagement. It links our personal past with our social future

But don't expect the appetite for technological immersion to stop there. You've no doubt seen Sci-Fi TV shows where lights are activated by voice command. Pioneering research in strong AI suggests that may be hardly scraping the surface. We may see light control systems that come on when we think about needing them. Or lights that automatically adjust to the growing fatigue of our eyes when preoccupied in a task. Immersion is the natural inclination of human-computer interface.

Seen in this context, touch screen gaming may be regarded as a transitional step into that future. Game designers who insist upon putting "consoles" on to touch screen games are being left behind by history. They are like those early film makers and recording engineers who could not see their new technologies as anything more than the means to record live performances. And being able to do that was a great accomplishment. It was of course only when the visionaries came along who could imagine cinematography and splice-editing, though, that these new technologies realized their creative and aesthetic potential.

Likewise, until they can wrap their heads around the possibilities of organic designs, realizing the optimum potential for the best games for iPad, and other touch screen devices, such designers will be the last of the past, rather than pioneers of the future.

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