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It won’t be long before we’re fighting raid bosses in the streets. Oculus Rift is getting everyone hyped for the experience of Virtual Reality, but Augmented Reality – mapping and projecting VR assets over the real world – isn’t far behind. And it’s going to make gamers tougher than the Marines.
Augmented reality games have actually been around longer than you might give them credit for. The University of South Australia’s Wearable Computer Lab attempted an AR version of Quake as far back as 2002, and a team at the University of Singapore brought Pac-Man onto the streets with the appropriately-titled Human Pacman in 2004.
(A few people at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications graduate program tried the same thing in the same year with PacManhattan, although with a presumably tighter budget it amounted to players running around the Washington square park area with mobile phones so they could tell the game’s referee what was actually going on.)
Such attempts were constrained by having to carry enough computing equipment to crush a small child, but ten years is a long time for technology. There’s already augmented reality games for mobile devices – like the MMO Ingress, in which players use their mobiles as scanners, hunting the streets for alien portals to capture for their faction. Add Google-Glass style eyewear to the mix, and bam. Murlocs in the park lake and Cliff Racers on every rooftop.
And this is where the Marines bit comes in, because your ability to fight these foes won’t be based on your speed with a keyboard or your savvy binding of macros to the fifty buttons of your £300 gaming mouse. It’s going to be based on how well you can actually fight: how fast you can run, how fluidly you dodge, how accurately you shoot your virtual bow.
So gamers will train. Swords and bows and good old fisticuffs; endurance running for tracking and kiting, sprint training for when it all goes belly-up. And when the developers start hiding the choicest loot and the biggest bosses at the top of Everest or the middle of the Sahara, well, we’ll just have to train for that, too; caving, climbing, abseiling, extreme survival tactics. The hardcore gamers of the future won’t be couch-bound, they’ll be the pinnacle of humanity – name-taking, ass-kicking, undefeatable machines.
Assuming we survive the invention of the virtual girl-or-boyfriend and don’t starve to death in our homes, anyway.