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Game Physics

Andreas Schiffler wrote:

[…] I am at the beginning of some research into the area of game physics (that is, the simulation of physics in video games) … The research is somewhat motivated by several observations:

Physics has an interesting split personality in that it is viewed as very fundamental in the sciences with a lot of ‘prestige’ (Einstein is a folk-hero), but at the same time Physics seems to be largely rejected as a discussion topic by non-science educated folks. As soon as it gets a bit more detailed and mathematical, most people will react try to avoid Physics. The current state of physics education (low number of graduates, etc.) confirms this.

Games on the other hand are well on the way (if not already there) to become the most used, most influential, most profitable entertainment medium. Therefore one can safely assume that they exert a significant influence on our culture. This trend which will continue in the years to come, especially as graphics capabilities reach photorealistic levels.
Game Physics is an element in video games that was always present and is even at the root of games (SpaceWar, the first video game was a physics simulation). It is becoming even more common due to the 3D and immersive nature of todays video games, because it makes games ‘playable’. Generally it is a very important aspect of games since it is directly linked to the interactivity and ‘feel’ of the gameworld, but as a topic of game theoretical analysis, it is often overlooked.

As for some specific questions, I am currently interested in a discussion on how games affect the relationship we have with the real world. Obviously there are social implications to video game play as we can see from the whole “violence in games” debate. In relationship to Physics, I am looking at more fundamental changes in how we construct truths: Does video game physics create a form of “folk physics” (my immediate answer would be yes) and does that change the way we think or even act? For readers unfamiliar with video games, think of the ‘Movie Physics’ – which todays games largely adopt – such as the engine roar of a space ship flying by the camera (… this should be silent in vacuum).

So in some sense, the question extends the common “does it matter that movies have pseudo physics?” discussed extensively on site like http://www.intuitor.com/moviephysics/ to “does it matter when video games have pseudo physics?” (and believe me they do!). Why don’t game developers try harder and game players expect more?

If one looks critically at mass media today, are we not creating a whole new “church of entertainment” especially with video games, where – at least as far as physical simulations are concerned – the scientific method and precision becomes irrelevant or at best secondary over the goal of implementing the next, better implementation of a game as ‘VR drug’ or ‘consentual hallucinations’ as W. Gibson puts it?

Could the trend we see in the popularity for ‘documentaries’ – especially ones with a scientific slant such as ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ be extended to mainstream video games? Personally I feel sad to see that Physics is typically reduced to animating ragdoll-enemies, chaingun-bullets and flamethrower-particles … so why not extend game physics to include more quantum-mechanics? Maybe this would allow us to bridge the gap between game-cultures and science-cultures.

–AS

Corrado Morgana wrote:

Andreas,

I think you may be misinterpreting the notion of physics within games…it is not to demonstrate science, but physics as in physicality..objects have weight, mass and motion similar to real life objects and are used as ludic elements..that which foster gameplay..check out Half life 2 et al and much indie gaming which, for a while seemed to be obsessed with physics based gaming..it is simulation within set parameters

Folk physics..yup agreed, but you have to consider the role of games, Freelancer is a damn sight more fun than Orbiter, a very realistic, space flight simulator

There are few games which address scientific issues, OK Prey and the soon to be released Portal may look at disjointed physicality (that word again)..but talking about games and quantum mechanics may be more about pedagogic simulation; difficult game premise

However there may be an answer..

Check out Garry’s mod for Half life 2…a physics based sandpit that could ideally be used, I think in your terms

Corrado Morgana…games researcher

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Jun 20, 12:29
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