Will Video Games Ever Replace Real Travel?

Midnight Club Tokyo
Midnight Club Tokyo

I have been a video game fan for most of my life… Nintendo Game & Watch, Atari 2600, Apple IIe, arcade machines, PCs, Gameboys, Playstations… the list goes on, and I have owned most of them (including an arcade machine).  In fact, I like video games so much that if you asked me if I would rather travel or play games, which would I pick… I’d be kind of stumped.  I get restless and therefore can’t stay in one place too long before I am overcome with the need to travel.  However, I also would struggle to go through an entire week without at least some dosage of video games.  The really neat thing though is that some video games combine both the thrill of challenging gameplay, together with travel… for me, the best of both worlds.

I get the impression that most people these days prefer first and third person shooter type games… I don’t mind those, but I have always been a bigger fan of games that gives you a significant amount of immersion… ie you get sucked deeply into the alternate reality that has been created.  With older games, you had to use a bit more imagination due to basic graphics, but that was certainly possible (at least back in those days).

Immersive games that involve travel have always been my favourite.  Probably the earliest I can remember playing was an Apple II game in which you had to travel the Oregon Trail back in the old pioneering days (I think it was simply called “The Oregon Trail”).  Next up (and one which I still enjoy playing) was “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”.  I am sure most of you from my generation will remember this title… its a detective series in which you have to travel around the world hot on the heals of a jewel thief.  In each country you are given clues and if you have good knowledge of geography you will quickly work out which country Carmen has fled to next.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

However, the game that most impressed me when it comes to total immersion was Midnight Club 2.  Here we had a car racing game that on the one hand made you feel like you were living in “The Fast and the Furious” film, but once you completed enough races within LA, you then got to race in Paris and subsequently in Tokyo as well.  The game developers took a pretty good shot at attempting to recreate each of those cities.  When I visited Paris not long after playing Midnight Club, I was quite surprised when I saw many of the landmarks exactly where they were in the game (although the game did have to take short-cuts as well with respect to certain streets, but the main ones and main landmarks were all there).

Midnight Club 2 Paris Map
Midnight Club 2 Paris Map
Midnight Club 2 - Paris
Midnight Club 2 – Paris

So what is next in the world of gaming?  With the technology advancements, the limitations that the programmers for Midnight Club 2 had to deal with have definitely been reduced (just take a look at Midnight Club LA… an even more accurate rendering of Los Angeles).  Eventually, there will be games where an entire city has been faithfully recreated… you won’t need to travel to see such cities any more… you can just immerse yourself in a game instead, in order to escape there.

It all sounds good in theory, and I guess as a temporary reprieve from a stressful day at the office, its not such a bad thing.  Of course, I don’t believe technology will ever truly replace real travel.  At the end of the day, nothing beats the feel, smell, non-digital sights of a place and the interaction with the locals there.  Many of these things can be rendered digitally (and be quite immersive) but I think we will struggle for some time yet with full immersion.

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