The traditional and still popularly accepted perception of gaming and simulation establishes two distinct and mutually exclusive spheres using the same technologies: games, purely entertaining, more often than not violent, and largely catering to a group of persons who can only find fulfillment in virtual combat; and simulations, purely occupational, more often than not academic, and largely catering to soldiers, doctors, scholars and an erudite society of persons who can only find fulfillment in calculus solutions. These two spheres have enjoyed immense growth, both financially and technologically, in the last two decades. However, the industry has borne a certain stigma that links it to mass murder, fanaticism, and decadence in the propaganda of politics and pop culture.
What if visiting a virtual world on a daily basis became as esteemed and as essential to modern living as visiting one’s favorite stores? Then we could say that the industry has fulfilled its true potential, and we could expect industry giants to emerge. To achieve this lofty goal, there needs to be a game or simulation for everyone, and for everything, but is this possible? I believe it is because almost any situation in the real world can be morphed into a virtual world.
Then what stands in the way? Certainly not technology: graphically stunning and physically realistic 3D worlds — and 3D controllers that map all the intricacies of human body action onto them — have pushed the virtual envelope much closer to the reality of a Star Trek holodeck. If not technology, then what? I believe the limiting factor is content: although the traditional game repertoire of combat and sport has expanded into many far-flung and unexpected new realms with simulation creeping into a diverse portfolio of professions such as medicine and law. While the commercial successes such as The Sims and Second Life have popularized gaming, the minutiae of everyday life, content-wise, the simulation and game industry seems to be caught on the dichotomous cusp separating frivolity from functionality.
I believe the answer lies in the merger of the two: professionals debate the difference between a game and a simulation, ultimately concluding that the difference lies in the end use of the same technology. But is there a difference at all? Cannot a topic be gamed and simulated at the same time? Can we not find entertainment in simulating and training for reality, and can we not learn from even the oddest of game adventures? Life is already structured as both a game, with competition, levels of achievement, victory conditions, and above all, a never-ending quest for entertainment; and as a learning experience, comprising an ocean of details and procedures, and above all, a never-ending quest for experience.
I propose that we view every aspect of the real world as a source for virtual worlds, that our virtual lives always become a preparatory or experimental examination of real-life choices, and that we maximize the entertainment and satisfaction value of real-life events through the experience gained in virtual ones. In practical terms, this unified approach to simulation design will attract new mindsets to the industry, young and old, male and female, pragmatic and artistic; and a whole new set of life topics — from infancy to senescence — will emerge, continually revitalizing and reinventing game simulations and the academia and industry built around them. Only then will popular perception fully evolve, and only then will simulation and game technology gain the full respect that it deserves.
At Fayetteville Technical Community College, our Simulation and Game Development program is designed to promote this change in perception, not only for the future benefit of the industry, the technology, and those involved with both, but for the benefit of increased student diversity and the full integration of Simulation and Game Development into the mainstream of technology education and research. By assigning a more comprehensive and unified mission for the application of simulation and game technology, we can attract a broader spectrum of minds that will in turn train a more diverse professional pool than the current somewhat cultish one, and that will ultimately provide the broad human experience necessary to apply the technology to every facet of this experience.
We achieve this lofty goal by stressing a philosophical approach to simulation design that examines and integrates not only technology, but also psychology, sociology, engineering and history into the process. We also teach simulation technology as a conceptual tool to be learned and applied independently of the video game in its accepted format. Finally, we strive to diversify our student population by promoting the potential of simulation to enhance the life of every individual, by challenging individuals to come and discover and develop this potential.