With all of the talk about VR taking off, here is something I wrote a handful of years ago, that echoes all of the talk of virtual first-person shooters:
Just imagine this game premise: You take the atmosphere of Tron, stick players in tight labyrinth corridors a la Wolfenstein 3D or Doom, place guns in their hands and send them out in droves to invade bases and gun down any opposing player foolish enough to get in your way. When the match is over, the player can access a scoreboard or leaderboard to see their performance just like in any first-person shooter deathmatch mode.
Advances in technology have taken the first-person shooter a long way since their humble PC beginnings in the ‘90s and today’s games are more realistic than ever. The stretch for realism has been documented in my J2Games feature “It’s So Real” before, so this news shouldn’t be shocking to anyone. But what if I told you the most realistic first-person shooter I’ve ever played was introduced in 1986? Sure, it’s a stretch, but, if you ask me, I would say Laser Tag is the “most realistic game” ever invented.
I was reminded of this last week when our school gaming club ran an all-day Nerf Tag (the dart-shooting toy guns for those not in the know) event to those looking for some solace from the nasty exams being thrown around that week. Players could select from a menu of video game influenced game types such as free for alls, last team standing and games featuring different classes that allowed players to become medics that could save fallen teammates or a real interesting game type that made one player an overpowered “monster” taking on an entire team. Everything was video game in concept, but once the whistle blew, the game completely changes.
Your stamina is not based on some meter that determines how long you can run. Your imagination and health (and the game rules and local, state and federal laws) are the boundaries of what tactics and maneuvers you can do instead of predetermined sets of mechanics developers limit players with. When you run, you feel the air rush by and when you pull the trigger, you get the tactile feedback players could only get by actually being on the playfield. And last week, during the game I had a chance to play, when my adrenaline kicked in, I was an unstoppable machine that wouldn’t quit unless I had five darts sticking out of me. Velcro darts, of course. It would really suck if needled darts were being used and, somehow, I don’t think our college would have approved of that.
Certainly, this isn’t quite as relaxing as sprawling out on a couch and emulating the thrill of the hunt with a controller and some buddies in the same room via Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. However, when a video gaming element “clicks” in the real world, it seemingly becomes even more gratifying. When it works, such as in the mechanics of Laser Tag, I can clearly see the concept of immersion in gaming. I understand why Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are looking to involve players in the game, much like arcades have done with deluxe cabinets throughout the last decade or so. But when I look at this, I can spot the one aspect that is truly holding this concept back: The environment.
By swinging a Wii Remote, I’m merely telling an onscreen character to swing their sword. In most cases, very little is being done to make it feel like I am in a dungeon fighting off deadly monsters. When you stick me under a ceiling of blacklights, strap a glowing vest to my chest, send me into a maze and allow me to shoot lasers at other people, though, I am officially immersed in what is going on around me and this comes to me at $3-5 for a good 15 minutes or so of an escape from reality. Instead of thinking about what I should make for dinner, that paper for class I’ve been putting off for weeks or how it is exactly that Zangief wrestles bears legally, I have a mission to accomplish and it is all done in accompaniment to high-energy anthem house tracks provided by the Mortal Kombat movie soundtrack.
Certainly, we can’t expect to reproduce this in our living rooms. We have space restraints, furniture to protect and neighbors to be considerate of (unless they still haven’t returned that DVD you let them borrow a month ago even though they said they would only need it for a couple of days – I want my copy of The Wizard back now, Chris!). Still, every time I head out to the Zap Zone, I am reminded of why I’d rather venture out of the apartment as opposed to firing up Call of Duty. I don’t want things to be so realistic I would risk my health being shot at by real bullets (or those G.I. Joe red and blue lasers), but the mix of game elements in a accommodating environment adds just enough zing to my senses.
We might be on our way with the path we’ve set this generation, but I’d be interested in seeing how video games can continue to evolve into real-world competitive counterparts. And don’t worry. If you don’t want to head out to one of our tag events because no achievements are involved, we’re working on that right now.