Sci-fi author Charles Stross on gaming in 2030

As Charles Stross puts it, since he writes science fiction, for some reason people think he can predict the future.

As Charles Stross puts it, since he writes science fiction, for some reason people think he can predict the future. Regardless of whether you agree, he sure has a knack for predicting (or I should say writing) award-nominated and occasionally winning novels like Singularity Sky, Halting State, and Accelerando. At last week's annual LOGIN (Leaders of the Online Game Industry) Conference in Seattle, Washington, Stross delivered a keynote entitled "Gaming in the World of 2030," and which he's posted online at his not-an-anti-Catholic-hate-site blog, Antipope.

What's he offer of interest? After covering the obvious stuff, i.e. expansion of MMOs (World of Warcraft 2!), wireless mega-bandwidth everywhere (buh-bye cell phones), gizmos-eating-gizmos (hey iPhone!), and the inexorable micro-scale processing brick wall looming, Stross tackles the age-related paradigm (my word, not his) shift in gaming.

I don't know anyone much over fifty who's a serious gamer; if you didn't have consoles or personal computers in your world by the time you hit thirty, you probably didn't catch the habit. This is rather unlike the uptake pattern for film or TV, probably because those are passive media -- the consumer doesn't actually have to do anything other than stare at a screen. The learning curve of even a console controller is rather off-putting for folks who've become set in their ways.

At which point he turns the clock ahead to 2030, saying

We can confidently predict that by then, computer games will have been around for nearly sixty years; anyone under eighty will have grown up with them. The median age of players may well be the same as the median age of the general population. And this will bring its own challenges to game designers. Sixty year olds have different needs and interests from twitchy-fingered adolescents. For one thing, their eyesight and hand-eye coordination isn't what it used to be. For another, their socialization is better, and they're a lot more experienced.

Oh, and they have lots more money...

...But the sixty-something gamers of 2020 are not the same as the sixty-somethings you know today. They're you, only twenty years older. By then, you'll have a forty year history of gaming; you won't take kindly to being patronised, or given in-game tasks calibrated for today's sixty-somethings. The codgergamers of 2030 will be comfortable with the narrative flow of games. They're much more likely to be bored by trite plotting and cliched dialog than todays gamers. They're going to need less twitchy user interfaces -- ones compatible with aging reflexes and presbyopic eyes -- but better plot, character, and narrative development. And they're going to be playing on these exotic gizmos descended from the iPhone and its clones: gadgets that don't so much provide access to the internet as smear the internet all over the meatspace world around their owners.

So does that fact that I've been bored to the point of actual outrage with the "trite plotting and cliched dialog" in today's games since I first played Colossal Cave Adventure on a Commodore B128 back in the late 1980s, and that I'm inexplicably less cranky about crappy story lines in games today, mean I've got whatever Brad Pitt had in that Benjamin Button flick?

"Codgergamer." I like that. I like that a lot.

For more gaming news and opinion, park your tweet-readers at twitter.com/game_on.

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)
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