* The Fantastic Journey is a series of reviews of Massive Multiplayer Online games underpinned by a fictional story.
A Fantastic Journey Through the Realms of Massive Multiplayer Online Worlds
Project Fantastic Journey
Journal Entry: April 7, 2014
The holy grail of gaming is a heightened sense of immersion in the gaming worlds we play in. We can do this to a certain extent with powerful gaming rigs, larger screens, surround sound, accessories like a steering wheel in racing games and even by having gaming merchandise around the room. All of this fades in comparison though to what has been achieved through the pioneering efforts of the Korean conglomerate Sunchon and Doctor Harvey and his team. They have ventured into the realm of the mind giving test subjects an experience that has been likened to entering a vivid dream.
Doctor Harvey is a genius who has been deeply involved with neuroprosthetics for many years and found a non-invasive way for his immobile patients to connect to electronic wheel chairs and devices with their mind. His most famous achievement was enabling Erik, a paraplegic, to control his wheel chair, computer and other electronic devices around the home with the help of a mind-machine interface helmet (MMIH). It wasn’t long before the Korean conglomerate Sunchon knocked on his door making him an offer he couldn’t refuse and causing him to veer down the path of neurogaming.
This breakthrough device can also be used to send many kinds of signals to the brain which are mostly to do with sight and physical sensations. To use it though one has to be shaved bald. A thin layer of oil is applied to the head and then something resembling a swimming cap with wires is placed over it. This, in turn, is connected to a plug in the helmet.
The neurogaming tests have been very limited in scope but have been promising enough to warrant going up to the next level of which I am now going to play a part in. My missions involve entering the exciting world of Massive Multiplayer Online games as an ‘immersion’ player.
I have just completed orientation week. Numerous tests have been performed in the lead up to the big day which is next Monday.The most amazing thing to happen to me was having all visuals directly ported to my mind via the MMIH and walking from one point to another without the use of my eyes. The sense of realism was astounding.
Another highlight of the week was the wicked looking jet black armor they gave me complete with an arsenal of weapons. Pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and missile launchers. These weapons are not detailed and only vaguely resemble what they are supposed to be. This is because the games themselves will determine they’re appearance.
The armor though isn’t what it appears. It works in unison with the helmet enhancing your feelings in the virtual world. If your left arm is pinned down by the enemy that part of the armor restricts your movement. If your right leg has been seriously injured the armor will lock that part of your body down. It can give you the sensation of touching something that isn’t really there.
Despite the high-tech nature of the experiments I am located in the countryside just outside of Taejon, South Korea. Here they are using an old warehouse and a large field to conduct all their experiments.
There are obstacles and structures about the field that only bare a skeletal resemblance to their gaming counterpart. Everything is set-up to resemble the structures, vehicles and other things found in a game.
During one test I hopped into a jet-fighter, lifted off and had an exhilarating fight with the enemy. When I was asked to take off my helmet I found myself in a something without wings suspended by a rod in the front and back end suspended inside a large metal ring. Yet it really had felt like I was doing aerial combat in the sky.
It’s curious that all these things are needed. Why not do away with it all? It turns out that the technology still has a long way to go before we can simply lie down on a bed with the MMI on our heads and have a fully immersive experience. The second reason I was given is that there are different implementations of the technology that went far beyond gaming including restoring sight to the blind and military use.
There is also the concern that there may be boundaries of the mind which are better not crossed which is one of the reasons why the armor suit is used. Using an extreme example if you sent a signal to the brain to immobilize a player’s body for a moment because they have been killed in the game can you guarantee that it will only be temporary? The mind, I was told, is a place that should be cautiously entered and carefully probed.
I wish I could say that entering an immersive gaming world is without incident. It’s not. It’s sudden and disorientating as hell. Huge gaming worlds bombard the mind with signals.
Though it’s all taking place in your mind there’s the visceral sense that you have crossed over into another surreal dimension. The electra phenomenon takes place upon arrival. A blinding light and multiple electrical arcs takes place all around you for a few moments. That’s the part I hate. Departure from these worlds is far better though you do feel nauseous afterwards.
I’m excited about the coming weeks but a little anxious. Even the little taste of immersive game playing I’ve had during orientation week has proven to be somewhat overwhelming and intense. What will it be like to enter these huge MMO worlds that are at war? How will it effect me and will there be any after affects?
I also have a nagging suspicion that not all is as it seems. That part of this project is bound in secrecy and some of my questions have been deflected. There are armed guards around the place and other tests are taking place. Despite my apprehension I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to the experience.