The Future of the Avatar
Next generation gaming is not for the faint of heart
Life is a game. Every day we find ourselves in the middle of the game, involving the work we do, the people we hang out with, and the social structures that surround us.
But who exactly created this game? Each day we live our lives as animated playing pieces, playing by rules that others created. Conformity is a constant force, imposing a lifestyle that most of us were born into, saddled with goals that often go cross-grain with our personal strengths. All of this, however, is about to change.
In the future, the very near future, nothing we hold dear today will remain sacred. Not even the rules for our own game of life.
It Starts with the Avatar
Think first of the lowly avatar, that cartoonish representation of ourselves, sent as our personal emissary to experience online, virtual worlds. With over 400 competing virtual worlds dotting the digital landscape, our avatars now have a lot of choices in picking their next adventure.
Google recently announced a system for avatar portability, enabling us to have one avatar that seamlessly crosses from one virtual world to the next. Over time avatars will evolve into very sophisticated entities, taking on as many of our personal characteristics as we wish them to have, and abilities that we can only dream about having.
Avatars will learn from us. They will know when to smile, when to laugh, and to break down in tears during intense periods of emotion. They will know details of the movies we’ve seen, be able to cite passages from our favorite books, and know the history of every member of our family.
With each generation of avatar, they will become more life-like, growing in realism, pressing the limits of autonomy as we become more and more reliant on them for experiencing the world. The avatar will become an extension of ourselves. The pain that we feel is the same pain that they feel, and vice versa. Like symbiotic twins separated only by a dimension or two, we are destined to become one with our avatars.
Regardless of how creepy this may appear to people viewing the world from our current vantage point, and what we consider normal by today’s standards, avatars are destined to become routine, everyday fixtures in our future way of life.
But here’s the most important part. Avatars will only live in the computer world for a short time longer. It is only a matter of time before they emerge from the computer and appear as visual beings, walking around among us.
Shades of Reality
Once an avatar goes through the radical metamorphosis from an image that we see on a screen to a three dimensional being that joins us for dinner, carries on conversations with our friends, and serves as a stand-in for us at meetings, we will see work start on an even more realistic avatar, one that we can touch.
The field of robotics has long tried to replicate the actions of humans and animals, using sophisticated mechanisms to produce intricate movements. From our current image of how the world works, this has been a logical approach.
But much like the transition from mechanical scanning and printing to digital replication of images, mechanical robots will be superseded by digital avatars with many of the same capabilities.
At some point in the future there will be a competition to see who can create a three dimensional avatar capable of physically picking up an object. This physical realism will radically alter our understanding of reality, as avatars become the worker bees of the future.
The New Game of Life
Over time the games that we play to keep us entertained will begin to merge with our everyday lives. The person sitting across the conference table from us, discussing complicated business strategies may also have another agenda, a gaming agenda to “kill” us and steal our prized data-tool as a way of gaining more credits in an alternate life game. The killing will never cause physical harm, but perhaps some physical pain so that we are aware of what’s happening.
With the introduction of each new game, the meaning of life, as we perceive it today, will begin to change. Today’s drive to educate ourselves and earn a living will move onto an entirely new playing field, where entertainment and work meld into an amalgam of intentions unrecognizable by today’s standards.
This will, however, not be a utopia. While some might envision the avatars to be the perfect clone of ourselves, the reality will be much different as frictions develop between us and our avatars. Men will find their girlfriends are more attracted to their avatars than to themselves, even having affairs with them. Some avatars will start buying things for themselves, stealing money, even taking on insane addictions that only digital beings can experience.
A series of self-help books will emerge that discuss “how we can improve our relationship with our avatars”, “how to keep our avatars from reproducing without our consent”, and “how to breed avatars for fun and profit”.
If you think we live in a complicated world today, you’d better strap on your change-helmet. We are in for a rough ride.