After years of reading about MMORPG Worlds, I finally managed to find a reasonably good one that allows you to play for free see ... Planeshift After a few initial hiccups with the software, I finally managed to create an account, create a character ( avatar ), upload it and finally join the game. It was good, though I understand that the popular commercial ones are better ... But as they say in Bengali, a blind uncle is better than no uncle at all. Jokes apart, joining this game gave me a fairly good understanding of what these games are all about.
So what are they all about ? It is about a simulated world peopled by different races of people with each having slightly different characteristics. Is it not the same in our 'real' world ?
In such a world, you have the ability to create one or more 'avatars' or characters and through them enter the world. Initially it is a very lonely place, as it would be if you were dropped into another planet and asked to find your way through.
What can you do ? I am expected to strike deals and earn money, actually funny money with game currency, and use this to further my goals in this world. I could also explore new territory and find out new and wonderful things about this world.
What makes this games different from a normal computer game where you play against the AI-capable program of the computer is that there are other 'avatars' created by other live players. This gives it an element of reality ( and randomness, or non-determinism) that may be difficult to achieve in a pre-programmed environment.
However there are more effective doses of reality.
First the computer graphics are superb. You really feel that you are walking through a subterranean world ( in this case the setting is subterranean but there are other games that have different settings). The degree of reality is of course a function of the money that you have paid for the game ... after all the graphics designers would expect a decent salary if they are expected to work on the detailed graphics. But money is not the only solution to improving reality ... technology is.
Graphics on the screen is good but one would need other stimuli as well if you would like to replicate reality. Sound is easy and 3D imagery is almost here, thanks to lasers and holograms ... but touch ? smell ? and taste ?
Theoretically speaking, it is not impossible to recreate all this ... but could we really extend the user-interface to a totally new level of experience ?
We have all seen the Matrix. The original is ofcourse the best and 'demonstrates' the technology through which sensory stimuli can be sent directly into the brain. This means that one can experience stimuli without the pair of signal converters : screen-eye for visual images, speaker-ear for sound, and the corresponding pair for the three other senses.
Is this possible ? Is this feasible ? Of course it is. Just look up the embedded technology that has been pioneered by Kevin Warwick where he uses implants to exchange machine readable electronic signals with the actual nervous system. Similar technology has been used to help quadriplegic patients to control wheel chairs ... by simply using their 'will' to take action.
My hypothesis is that while advances in AI technology will make MMORPG games even smarter, the real smartness will come from having more and more people join the game and contribute their own intelligence towards making the game more compelling. However the introduction of direct, Matrix-style, nerve implants that do away with traditional user-interface technology will give a qualitative jump to the sheer richness of the game playing experience.
When will this happen ? I would say that this is not more than ten years away.