In the same year we celebrated 40 years of Space Invaders, we also saw how far gaming tech has come since, with the announcement of The Guts Game, a game which is played by swallowing a pill.
This year is the 40th anniversary of what might just be one of my favourite games of all time, Space Invaders. Released in 1978, it is probably one of the most recognisable games in the world, and its music was revolutionary in the industry, at least according to Andrew Schartmann.
“At the deepest of conceptual levels, one would be hard-pressed to find an arcade game as influential to the early history of video game music as Space Invaders,” Schartmann wrote in Maestro Mario: How Nintendo Transformed Videogame Music into an Art.
“Its role as a harbinger of the fundamental techniques that would come to shape the industry remains more or less unchallenged. And its blockbuster success ensured the adoption of those innovations by the industry at large.”
Video games have come a long way since then, with massive online arena shooter Fortnite recently being named Game of the Year. Space Invaders was one of the earliest shooting games, with Fortnite following in the footsteps laid down by it.
But even as unrecognisable as gaming is from then to now, something even weirder has come along to push into a new, weird place.
Developers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have unveiled The Guts Game, a game which is played by swallowing a pill. The pill releases a “virtual parasite” into the body, in the form of a sensor, which players must “defeat” by lowering or raising their body temperatures.
The developers reassured the crowd gathered at Chi Play 2018 that the changes in body temperature required to win the game were completely safe, like the ones undergone when exercising or eating spicy food. The pill is single use, and the game “ends” when the controller is passed through the body.
Imagine DIY versions of this sort of thing. It’s hard to imagine parents being okay with children literally ingesting video games into their bodies, especially if we have no way of knowing what’s inside the pills.
Although the details are a little difficult to ascertain, it looks as though there’s some way to track the information the sensor is outputting before it comes out the other end of the player, so this must be how the “player” tracks whether or not they have won. But this still raises questions.
First and foremost, how is this a game? I mean, sure, it meets the technical necessities of a “game” in that there is an outside stimulus (the pill), a goal (killing the virtual parasite), and a method of playing (increasing or lowering body temperature). But technology is definitely not at a point where this sort of thing would be a) affordable, and b) at all interesting.
Second, wouldn’t this invite a series of foolish speedrunner challenges? For those not in the know, speedrunning is where a player attempts to finish a game as fast as possible, usually within fractions of a second, like a sprint rather than a marathon. So, it’s easy to imagine someone – because people are dumb – swallowing this pill and then immediately jumping into a frozen lake, or doing something equally physically dangerous, in order to be the fastest at the game.
Third, imagine DIY versions of this sort of thing. At least with a bootleg video game all you’re going to get is maybe a computer virus or just some knock off version of the game you wanted. A bootleg pill-based game is going to have similar risks to getting narcotics. It’s hard to imagine parents being okay with children literally ingesting video games into their bodies, especially if we have no way of knowing what’s inside the pills. The government doesn’t accept that people do normal drugs; it’s hard to imagine them looking at this sort of thing and going, “Yeah, sounds good.”
And fourth, why? Why is this where the ideas went? Sure, this sort of bizarre test paves the road for more physically interactive, immersive, and altered-reality games, similar to how Space Invaders paved the way for games like Fortnite, but it’s hard to see how this is anything other than a gimmick. As above, the technology just isn’t there yet to do something cool with this kind of thing.
Yes, these are just experiments, and really you can never know what valuable discovery these sorts of weird things will yield, but it’s difficult to really get excited by anything like this when, whether victory is achieved or not, the game ends because the player had to poop.