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thesis: note  
thesis: abstract  
thesis: contents  
thesis: introduction  
thesis: chapter one  
thesis: chapter two  
thesis: chapter three  
thesis: chapter four  
thesis: chapter five  
thesis: chapter six  
thesis: chapter seven  
thesis: chapter eight  
thesis: conclusion  
thesis: bibliography  
thesis: acknowledgements  
   
   

Chapter Four: Leisure Applications


'What is it about epoch-making technology that makes it have to jump the toy-box hurdle first? The trivialisation of holography and speech synthesis has probably set both these advances back decades. The first thing that springs to mind when I hear any machine trying to speak is an Allegro dashboard'
- Richard Seymour, designer (1)

Aside from the industrial impact VR seems likely to make, there is the consideration of its impact upon a leisure field long married to the electronic media. In the subjective realm of leisure, one mans meat is another's poisson, but unquestionably, the banality market will play a crucial role....after all, VR is partly being pioneered in this country alone through its games applications.

Most town highstreets feature a computer games shop where children of every age cluster round the latest software proffered for their machines; played upon in livingroom, bedroom and boardroom. There is fierce competition between manufacturers Nintendo, Sega, Atari and Lynx to dominate an ever-expanding market, to the extent that more than £20m is being spent this year purely on marketing alone. It is big business; 'Super Mario' (anyone able to stay awake through a game? Synopsis gratefully recieved) alone grossed $400m and Nintendo claims that 'by Christmas 1000 000 British households will be equipped for it.'(2)

The object of 'Rape Man'; a Japanese adult fantasy game based on a popular comic book character, is to beat a woman on the screen into submission and then rape her in an electronic simulation. This delightful piece of software has yet to establish itself in Britain, where the computer game currently at the top of the adult charts is 'Leisure Suit Larry', which invites players to guide 'a pervert pursuing half-naked women through bars and strip joints, tweaking their bra-straps and bedding them on their way to Hollywood stardom.' (3)

When pushed for a justification of the violent nature of his arcade machines, stateside video game pioneer Gary Bushell defended them thus:

'...violence is, I think, a nature of the human animal. We would like to deny our animalism but at the same time, I think it's there. I think the most important thing is that we find ways that we can vent our hostilities in socially acceptable manners' (4)

Naturally, not all games are 'extreme'; and whatever the deficiencies in the leisure sector's lucrative encouragement of infantile regressive fantasy, it nonetheless holds the key to unlocking VR in the palm of its hand thanks to a huge market, which might sponsor the necessary R&D. But if there is such a large market to be tapped for escapism that currently festers in 2D and its exploiters' and users' debatable imaginations on the living room TV screen, then the implications of a sensually interactive scenario are self-evident. A dilemma emerges. Should individual psychologies be encouraged to vent their energies on games such as 'virtual rape / combat / mutilation' etc, which are surely bound to emerge, and the proponents of such games might argue along Bushell's lines, or could this spur the individual on to an unfortunate conclusion; inspired by the relative authenticity of committing a synthetic atrocity ? Addiction to arcade machines is currently a recognised problem. (Fig. 28)

Whatever,

"The Japanese Ministry of International trade and Industry is conducting research into virtual reality worth $60 million. Nintendo....is also said to be working hard in this area" (5)

and it is not unrealistic to suppose that the Japanese are looking to launch some form of VR application for the home market in the not too distant future.

It seemed, at one point, that cinema would be killed off by the cathode ray tube, but it has prevailed through the age of home video. For his latest film, 'Prospero's Books', which he described engagingly as "the Terminator2 of the art world", director Peter Greenaway spent 6 months creating images with some of the most advanced digital graphics technology now available - the 'Quantel Paintbox' (Fig.29) and 35mm animation system.....hence, evidently cognisant of the technological possibilities for the arts, and pressed for an opinion, he had the following to say

'To my knowledge, I don't think the VR systems are yet sophisticated or developed enough or in the right hands to become part of the cinematic vocabulary. I'd like the creation of a new sort of cinema - much more involved with audience reaction - involving people in a sort of cinema debate so they can decide themselves what they want to watch....there is an urgency to understand what is happening today. The urgency is to use other language now as it's being developed.' (6)

Indeed, it would appear that Greenaway's wishes are being fulfilled. At the Siggraph Electronic Theater, Las Vegas, Jul/Aug. 1991, audience members, the largest number to simultaneously participate in an interactive game on record, each held up a lollipop stick; one side red, the other green....cameras at the back of the hall picked up on the red and green matrix, fed the information into a computer, processed in real time and projected onto a giant screen. Depending on which side was held up, each individual was given the opportunity to make a decision; to vote, in effect....

'We are entering unexplored territory here. We are looking at a totally new group dynamic....the implications are mind-boggling. High street cinemas could become giant interactive game sets overnight, prototype product launches could be given immediate feedback like 'Juke Box Jury', and when interactive cinema software is more developed, the audience could start controlling the narrative of the film.' - Ian Grant(7)

Suddenly, TV seems most insignificant, and rather ineffectual by comparison with these visions. But currently manufacturers are squabbling over which format High-Definition Television will take, and it seems that even before they get that off the ground, they might be overtaken by home VR...... Home interactive media versus group interactive - will one predominate in the future ? Once everybody has a system in their livingroom, able to plug into designated play areas, there are sure to be bizzarre consequences.

References

(1) Seymour, Richard, 'Less virtual, more real', in 'Blueprint', November 1991, p. 74
(2) Honigsbaum, Mark, 'Grown-up Games People Play', Sunday Times, 22/9/1991
(3) Honigsbaum, Mark, 'Grown-up Games People Play', Sunday Times, 22/9/1991
(4) Gary Bushell - interviewed on Horizon, 'Painting by Numbers', BBC 1989
(5) Marks, Paul, 'An Extra Dimension of Realism For Arcade Games', in New Scientist 6/4/1991, p.23
(6) Dietrich, Christopher, 'Greenaway's Tempest: In Search of Visual Literacy', in 'Tech Images' No. 18 oct/nov/dec 1991, pp.18-20
(7) Grant, Ian, 'Pixel Pinball Wizardry', in Direction Magazine, November 1991, p.38