Video Games Gain in Reality. But Fantasy Counts Recently, a new computer chip called the PhysX was unveiled. It's for video games, and it was designed to make them feel more realistic because it helps the objects you see on the screen follow the laws of real-world physics. The company that makes the PhysX promises things like explosions that cause dust and collateral debris, cloth that drapes and tears the way you expect it to, and dense smoke that billows around objects in motion. In other words, your video game will look even more real. This probably sounds great to a lot of gamers -- but not to commentator Jake Halpern.
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Video Games Gain in Reality. But Fantasy Counts

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Video Games Gain in Reality. But Fantasy Counts

Video Games Gain in Reality. But Fantasy Counts

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A new computer chip called the PhysX was unveiled recently. It's for video games and it was designed to make them feel more realistic, because it helps the objects you see on the screen follow the laws of real world physics.

The company that makes the PhysX promises things like explosions that cause dust and collateral debris, cloth that drapes and tears the way you would expect it to and dense smoke that billows around objects in motion. In other words, your video game will look even more real.

This probably sounds great to a lot of gamers, but not to commentator Jake Halpern.

JAKE HALPERN reporting:

I am a proud member of the video game generation. I was born in the mid-1970s, just around the time that Atari released its first big hit, a game called Pong. Basically there was this black screen with a thin white line, the paddle, and a little square dot, the ball.

By the mid-1980s, I ditched my Atari for the Nintendo Entertainment System. My game of choice was Duck Hunt. It came with this cool little zapper gun that allowed me to sit in my pajamas, gun in one hand, a slice of pizza in the other, and blast away at hapless ducks as they flapped across the screen.

By 1997, when I was a senior at Yale, I was spending a good deal of my waking hours, not at Sterling Memorial Library, but on a friend's beer-saturated couch playing a game called Resident Evil for the PlayStation. It had these awesome 3-D graphics and you pretty much just walked around with your Remington 870 gun, annihilating zombie dogs, an oversized snake and a giant, mutated plant. Ah, college.

What made each of these game systems better than the next was the level of detail. It seemed as if each of them were getting closer and closer to creating that much idealized concept of virtual reality. The potential of this concept was best-captured by the holodeck on the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation.

How realistic are we talking? Well, in one episode of Star Trek, Lieutenant Worf was in the holodeck enjoying a simulation of the 19th Century American West when he accidentally received a minor gunshot wound. Don't you hate when that happens?

Silly as this may sound, Lieutenant Worf's mishap is actually worth considering more seriously, because it shows the problem with simulations that are too realistic. They're no fun. As far as I'm concerned, the beauty of Pong was that like all good video games, it allowed me to thrive at something that I had no actual aptitude for. I am a sub-par ping pong player. I've got a pretty decent serve, but the rest of my game is crap. And that's why I love Pong.

It's the same with Duck Hunt. Once, on a trip to Arizona, I actually picked up a Smith and Wesson and tried, unsuccessfully, to shoot a very nearby can of beer. In real life, I was a terrible marksman. But I'm still a wizard at Duck Hunt.

Now comes along this new computer chip, the PhysX, and we're all supposed to be oh, so excited, because gravity and all the other laws of Newtonian physics will be part of our video games.

But when I decide to play my Sony PlayStation from the comfort of my apartment, controller in one hand, slice of pizza in the other, I want to get on the half-pipe and pull a 1080, followed by a McTwist not even Shaun White could pull off.

When I want reality, I'll leave my apartment. Otherwise, I'm content to defy gravity.

NORRIS: Jake Halpern lives in Boston.

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