“Heavy Rain” is getting closer. This computer video game, scheduled for release in 2009, is developed for PlayStation 3 by French studio Quantic Dream and moves the technology of 3-D human rendering forward to include flowing hair, tears, wrinkles, and the type of twitching, blinking, pupil-dilating eyes only seen in people in reality.
If it works as planned, the game may be the first to overcome The Uncanny Effect — that slightly creepy feeling you get watching modern animation that still isn’t quite right, you know, Tom Hanks as the dead-eyed conductor in 2004’s The Polar Express. This unnerving effect was conceived by German psychologist Ernst Jentsch in 1906: artificial bodies, he said, that approach realism look even worse, like eerie dolls at Grandma’s house that are almost-but-not alive and therefore seem possessed.
Heavy Rain also poses some questions:
– Artificial intelligence: When artificial human faces become totally believable, will we perceive artificial intelligence even if it does not yet exist? It’s one thing to set up computer simulations that act like intelligent responses; but if the face presenting it seems human, the mind behind it may suddenly seem real, too.
– Dual standards for morality: What happens to the morals of society when our avatars, or self-drawn images that we present online, look real but still take actions that real society would condemn? It’s one thing to play an online video game where you shoot cartoon characters; when the game becomes total immersion in reality, are we then committing real murder?
– A second economy in which all rules, including advertising, change: Virtual worlds have come and gone, but in each advertisers have failed to make an entrance (See: Second Life). When the virtual becomes so beautiful that it transcends our own world, the temptation to move our minds there will be huge. The early forays into virtual communication (online war games, social media communications) show that advertising from the “real world” is often unwelcome.
Put them together, and the appearance of reality in new worlds may make fiction seem real, causing seismic shifts in the morality of what we believe, the values in how we act, and the tools we use to build or exchange wealth. It all goes on sale in a few months on your Sony PS3.