By Sabina Bonnici.
Firstly, from the title of this post you might expecting it to be about the future of the adult entertainment industry, well you'll be right, but not the X-rated sort - sorry to disappoint! (Maybe that's next year's Cong post.)
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford argues in his book Rise of the Robots: As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer people will be necessary. Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making “good jobs” obsolete: many paralegals, journalists, office workers, and even computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots and smart software. Will the rise of the robots mean adults will have more time to play? The Industrial revolution in the 18th century brought about a leisure revolution, so perhaps a future with more play-time for adults is not so far-fetched.
What sort of things will we be doing to fill our newfound free time as robots do our jobs and cater to our every need? Science fiction may give us some clues... though hopefully we won't follow in the footsteps of the recent TV series Westworld (based on 1972 movie of the same name). Westworld depicts a frankly terrifying future of a Virtual Reality (VR) adult playground, where the majority of people seem to take a huge amount of satisfaction of committing acts of extreme violence all under the guise of taking 'vacation' time.
So while we haven't yet got to the completely immersive environment suggested by Westworld, Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) are, in my humble opinion, the technologies with the most promise for play in the future.
VR experiences are being trialled and developed for a myriad of uses from journalism to therapy, but a natural fit is VR gaming, being able to step into unreal, or normally inaccessible, worlds.
Another area of play that VR is taking over is fitness and sports. An example of this is a company called Widerun.com who are creating VR cycle experiences. Using your own bike with their VR kit, you can cycle across both real and fantasy landscapes, and natural or urban environments including cities like San Francisco.
Most of us by now have heard the phrase 'Gotta catch 'em all' from the Pokemon Go AR game. Don't be fooled - while it looks like a kid's a game, it's the adults who've made this a smash-hit. A recent survey found that 71% of players are aged between 18-50. The possibilities for AR are constantly expanding as the new AR headset from Microsoft demonstrates, the Hololens (taking it's naming cue from Star Trek's holodeck), but the actual experience isn't quite like Captain Kirk's just yet.
Stepping out of VR and AR, and back in to the real world, one interesting observation I've noted is the recent increase in the number of 'escape rooms' popping up in cities around the world. These are real-life rooms, or sets, where you and your friends have to solve mental and physical tasks to escape the place you've been locked into. The nineties TV series The Crystal Maze is a classic example that was recently revived in a charity celebrity edition, and the Crystal Maze experience in London is booked out until March 2017, with another one being built in Manchester. In Dublin we have 'Go Quest'.
There are also an increasing number of organisations and theatre production companies making immersive site-specific work: taking performance out of expected venues like theatres and putting them in places you'd never expect. Punchdrunk transformed a warehouse into giant film sets, Secret Cinema turned a parking lot into Back to the Future, Blast Theory create games and playful experiences in cities near you. And some companies even go beyond physical locations and attempt to dip into your psyche. Ontroerend Goed made a performance about what people's first impressions of you are, and gave you a DVD of their comments as a memento!
The common thread tying all the above experiences together is that as adults, we are demanding an ever-increasing amount of interaction and socialisation from our play activities. My armchair theory is that this stems from a deep-seated search for our own humanity. We play to try and make sense of the way we could be in a world that's changing rapidly because of technology.
That's enough of the adult stuff. If you would like to read about the future of play for Children, pop on over here...