As a renowned video games expert, I’m occasionally asked by the BBC and other fine cultural institutions to weigh in on the big events and issues. They want to know my opinions on E3, on iSports, on ‘women in games’. They stop responding after I tell them the greatest problem facing our medium is that we, the players, can’t get cool wounds.
I once broke my nose dancing to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. I kneed myself in the face at the climax then sat the rest out with blood streaming down my face. That’s cool. That’s a wound you can be proud of. I lost feeling in half my hand for two days after swimming in ice water. That’s cool. I’m proud of that. Good job, Alice. Trying to learn to skateboard left grazes and gouges up my arms and legs. Nice! I’ve got a scar from an fountain pen accident – even writing can be cool.
What have video games given me? A bad back. An aching wrist which grinds like a sack of rocks if I move it in a certain way. Eye strain, perhaps. Aches from this bloody awful chair. That’s no good. None of those injuries are cool.
At best, my video gaming injuries elicit pity. I don’t want people to pull a troubled face, I want them to high-five me, smooch me, then ask if I’ll tattoo a switchblade on their neck.
This is another situation where virtual reality has been proposed as The Future. No doubt people wearing cybergoggles will injure themselves, interacting with a world entirely separate from the physical one around them. They’ll trip over tables and break arms, twist and circle and choke themselves with cables wrapped round their throats, and shred themselves reaching out and putting their hands through windows. But that’s not cool – that’s clumsiness, ineptitude.
I can’t see myself in a bar,sipping fine whiskey ‘on the house’ and chomping on a cigar while draped in babes after explaining “This scar? I tried to blast goo at a clown’s face but I fell through a glass coffee table.”
However, I do think there’s hope for the sensory deprivation of VR. The key is to put several cyberpeople in the same room. Four people hitting robots, slicing apples, gooing clowns, suffocating in zero-gravity, and whatever else it is you do while ‘cybering’ will surely lead to some marginally cooler incidents.
VR hardware will need to develop further to enable really cool injuries. Put spikes on the front of headsets to spice up clashing heads. Make one motion controller essentially a hammer and the other basically a knife, see what happens when folks start swinging those. Put people on rollerskates and skateboards. Lay out ramps and trampolines. Make it all done going downhill, if possible.
Wounds caused in a friendly way by other people are inherently cooler.
You’re right, “Do this stuff to make your hobby dangerous” is a hard sell. We’ll have to be sly. Start small, selling controllers with spikes, sharp edges, jagged wings and which “increase aerodynamics”. People will believe that reducing air drag of motion controllers and cybergoggles is important for increasing immersion. Over time, simply make protuberances larger and sharper. Rollerskates also help you slip into virtuaworlds, obviously. We need to make all this woundtech seem essential to VR, make people upset if they see hardware that isn’t bristling with blades.
Then put four people in a room with their cybergoggles on and see what happens.
This current virtual reality revolution is pointless, of course. It’ll always be doofy. But when the next VR revolution comes around in a decade, when it might actually be technologically and financially viable, we’ll have these plans in place. The next wave of VR will be inherently dangerous – and maybe even cool.
Ten years isn’t too long to wait for cool wounds.