Commentary, Video Games

(In)Human Element

July 6, 2012

Human Element, being developed for the PC and next-gen consoles by indie game development studio Robotoki, is likely to be a survival apocalypse game by Robert Bowling, former creative strategist at Infinity WardIt’s a part of a growing trend for survival-apocalypse “next-gen” video games, looks like, and it’s one that I generally gravitate toward inasmuch as I tend to prefer the Mad Max-inspired cerebral experiences of, say, Fallout 3 over the cacophonous, reptilian-brain mayhem of any one Call of Jingoism Call of Duty offering (sorry Infinity Ward, though I doubt you’ll miss my occasional 60 bucks in lieu of your millions of fans).

There appears to be a darker side to the growing sophistication of “simulation” in gaming, however.  You can probably guess where I’m going with this, right?

Loosely slated for a 2015 release, Human Element will feature GPS-powered functions for tablet devices that will allow gamers to mix their “real world” consumer habits with that of the “game world.”  Via, Apple iOS gaming obsessives Touch Arcade recently touched on this story today, excerpting quotes from the horse’s mouth:

“Say you’re at home, you’re playing Human Element, you’re out in the world, you get injured,” Bowling tells “You’re hurt and you need medical supplies. You don’t want to risk going out to forage in the game world, or maybe you did and can’t find anything, but you know that there’s a pharmacy four miles down the road in the real world. So, you go out and you’re out and about in the real world.”

“You open up Human Element on your iPad. We’re overlaying the world of Human Element onto the Googlemaps API, FourSquare business API, we’re taking your real world and merging it with your game world. So, now you’re checking into places in the real world and you’re scavenging in those locations for supplies that are dynamic to those locations.”

“We can do that anywhere there’s GPS map data,” he says.

Additionally, you’ll be able to “form alliances” with other players, letting them do the messy work of scavenging real-world supplies for you.”

It sounds innovative, but I conversely worry over the implications of this new level of “immersion” for a pastime as supposedly casual as “gaming.”  If it’s not casual, then perhaps it should be.

Call me a Luddite, but what’s to stop big game dev studios (hungry for “innovation”) from exploiting this system to further blur the lines between reality and virtual reality, particularly in the context of impressionable (often younger) players?  The preeminent risk of this lucrative system is the umbilical cord it requires of the user to tether him/herself to a virtual sandbox that — in turn — perpetuates a heightened, sustainable, and compulsive degree of consumerism (in “real life”).

That doesn’t sound like “fun” to me.  It sounds stressful and dangerously addictive (see Behavioral Game Design), especially as it applies to role-players that take their virtual environments a bit more seriously than the average gamer.

If “in-app purchases” (IAPs) weren’t financially destructive enough …


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