The future of virtual worlds, Richard Bartle


Richard Bartle's opinion about the future of virtual worlds, in the final part of a discussion panel led by Mark Johnson (from Roguelike Radio,, episode 141)

"This is based on an argument by Isaac Asimov, so it's not actually mine. But we started off with text, then we added graphics. We always knew the graphics were going to come. We got the graphics. We know that next, what's going to happen is VR, virtual reality, everything, not just 3D scenes, but you see it in 3D, you perceive it in 3D. But we don't have to stop there because we've got all of eternity ahead of us. So let's say, well, okay, that's great and everything, but you can't really move around or anything in these worlds. All you can do is move your head and then you're walking to furniture and stuff. So perhaps let's maybe put us in some tank filled with fluid. When you're lying down in this emergent tank, we can harden the fluid in different areas and make it feel like things are happening. When you move your limbs, we can make the fluid less or more viscous so that it feels like you're flying or if you're trapising through grass or so on."

"So we can do all that things. But still, what's happening here is we're trying to recreate an environment, but we don't have to do that. We can actually cut it out. So let's advance a few more hundred years, and we'll have these little chips that you can just stick into the back of your neck. And all of a sudden, all the senses that your body is receiving are coming from computer generated sources. Now you don't have to trick your body into thinking that it's floating. You just send your brain the signals that your body would have sent if it was floating. So now we can do all these things through the medium of bypassing the body entirely. So you've just got the brain. But the thing about the brain is it's still a physical object. It's a piece of hardware. And what we're still doing is still talking to the brain. What we want to talk to is the mind, because the mind is where the vision of the world is created. That's where, if you close your eyes, you can see everything around you because you've got a cognitive model of the whole world."

"And with the brain, if I send you pictures of a scary spider, it will be the same pictures of the scary spider somebody else has got. Maybe we can adapt them so they're scary if you are not. Maybe we can detect how you're reacting and make them even more scarier or less as you want. But really, you've not got the choice there. What you really want to be able to do is to speak to the player's imagination. Polk right into their brain so that they've got no choice immediately to think of something. If I say I am holding in my hand a large knife, you've got no option as soon as I say that, of thinking of a knife. So if we could talk, instead of talking to the brain, we could talk to the mind, then that would be the ultimate thing we could do. Bypass the whole of the hardware and just speak to the software. Is there a technology available in the future that will do this? Well, yes, there is. It's text. Text allows you to speak to someone's imagination. So it's always going to be better than any of the physical hardware or anything that we get because it enables you to bypass all the world around you and speak directly to the individual, the person they are without having to go through anything."

"So ultimately, the future of virtual worlds is the past. It's MUDs. But I'm not going to live that long to see it, unfortunately."