We as gamers experience different worlds through many perspectives. We travel through undiscovered galaxies, various moments in history and the potential futures that may await us. But for many, there’s a greater appeal in play an alternate reality, exploring the potential ‘what ifs’ we always love to dream about.
For the uninitiated, alternate realities are different outcomes of world history. What if Hitler had won? What if the artefacts found underneath the sands of Egypt were linked to an alien race? What if I had Red Rooster for lunch yesterday instead of McDonalds … okay, maybe not that one, but you get the idea.
Bethesda’s most recent Wolfenstein reboot is a perfect ‘what if’ example. Protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz finds himself in an alternate World War 2 scenario, one where the Axis powers had succeeded in their plans to dominate the planet. Following an introduction that sees B.J and his team defeated in 1946, our hero awakens in 1960 and must lead a new Resistance to overthrow the enemy once and for all.
Likewise, the Fallout series explores an alternate period of time after World War 2, where nuclear energy is used to deadly and world ending levels. Experiments and desperation leads to a nuclear apocalypse, and your hero appears from an underground vault to a world destroyed, mutated and out of control. At least they still have radio.
These are just a few examples of the kind of realities we can explore within the comfort of our own lounge rooms, scenarios that are largely impossible or out of reach by modern science … at least for now. The ability to tell a story from a different perspective, turning history on its side, isn’t a new thing in popular culture (see the many novels by the likes of Stephen King, Philip K. Dick or Terry Pratchett), but within video games, we can explore them in unimaginable and scarily realistic ways.
Up until now, those explorations have been limited only by the technology that we can afford. PlayStation consoles or desktop PC’s have enough power under the hood to make the latest Call of Duty, one where space travel has become a money broker and A.I. a deadly weapon, as realistic as possible. However, the growth in virtual reality opens with it the door to explore and immerse oneself in many new and exciting ways.
Despite their current cost, VR has finally found its place within the gaming field. The concept of exploring a virtual space has been around just as long as the video game industry itself (who could forget the first time we saw Tron come to life), but the technology has seemingly caught up to the idea, with glasses that cleanly sit over our eyes and transport us into eerily lifelike situations.
Which leads us back to the theory of alternate realities. If we’re now in a position where video games can be explored in a fully 3D space, there’s an infinite number of potential products and technology that can be developed to engulf our senses completely and transport us to wherever we wish. Imagine physically sitting next to historical figures, or witnessing important events in history, perhaps even changing them to suit your own purpose.
We’re on the verge of taking the simple term ‘play’ and morphing it into ‘live’. Game controllers would be a thing of the past, load screens a distant memory. We play to hide away from reality, to feel powerful and in control in ways we can’t in real life. But to live a different life completely, to change history without any altercation or rules? That’s a different level entirely, and on that’s immensely exciting to consider.
It does sound exciting, doesn’t it? All these years we’ve been imagining the alternative, wondering what the world would have been like if just one thing, just a tiny moment in time, had played out differently. The crazy and at times outlandish ideas explored in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One may soon be a very, very real thing, and that means the chance to see, explore and feel first hand what those tiny moments in time may have been like (if you haven’t yet, we suggest reading Ready Player One as soon as possible. It’s well worth your … time *ahem*).
Of course, maybe one day we will be looking back at this moment in time thinking, ‘what if they’d made a time machine instead’, but virtual reality may be the closest we ever get to the very same.
Jack Ellison-Jones is a member of the PN2 Ambassador Program. If you’re under 18 and want a starting point in your writing career, you can find out more about the program here.
Mark Isaacson is the Editor of PN2. Go say hi @Mark_D_Isaacson