We’ve seen science fiction become “science fact” in the past, but a gaming company influencing biohacking research?I can still remember looking at Motorola’s V3 RAZR in 2005 with my father, and he said that it was just like the Star Trek communicator. The flip-style device from the late-70s TV show seemed like something far off and impossible at the time; that level of wireless communication in a device that small seemed on equal par with warp drives and photon torpedoes. Then, just a few decades later, we had the V3 RAZR; I carried a metallic blue one in my pocket for years.
Tech innovation isn’t limited to the science fiction of books and movies, though; video games influence the ways tech innovators see the world around them and guide their designs as well. One project in particular, Konami’s Phantom Limb project, is pulled straight out of the storyline for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The MGS series revolves around stealth spy protagonist Big Boss (or Snake), who wakes up in MGS V with a cybernetic left arm. Snake’s new left arm is no normal prosthetic, though; as the game progresses he gains new abilities that take advantage of having a mechanical arm. There are those who aren’t content with leaving those types of capabilities in fiction, though. Enter biohacking, augmenting the body with new capabilities via technology.
Konami, the company behind the Metal Gear Solid franchise, has been in hot water with gamers since their messy separation from Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. That said, they’re making waves in the tech scene in other ways as well; they’ve partnered with prosthesis artist Sophie De Oliveira Barata to create a unique arm inspired by the series. They’ve worked with James Young, a man who lost an arm and a leg in a London train accident, to customize the limb to his unique needs. They’ll be unveiling the project’s results in a few weeks at a convention in Austin, Texas called BDYHAX.
The integration of organic and inorganic technology is all over the discourse in gaming lately, and it’ll become a larger discussion in the real world as we discover technological solutions to issues like paralysis and organ damage. Call of Duty: Black Ops III revolves around cybernetically-enhanced soldiers that can control nano-robots and interface with drones with a wave of the hand, and the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s central theme handles discrimination and subjugation of people who’ve received technological augmentation. Both games seem to deal with the potential backlashes that come with the full integration of technology with the body, though Black Ops III, being a first-person shooter, doesn’t delve too deeply into intellectual ponderings…there’s much more blowing up to do. But the Phantom Limb Project is a real-world step closer to the technology that we see in games, a step closer to both new dreams and new potential concerns.
Alongside this development in technology we also need to develop our technological ethics; there’s not much to argue with in providing an amputee a new limb, but what are the potential repercussions of technological augmentation? Who owns the data inside our bodies if it’s tied to cloud technology? Who harvests the data from these devices, and how do we know it’s being used in ways that aren’t invasive to our privacy? And what’s to stop an oppressive government (or company) from taking advantage of this technology to harm others? These are questions for bioethicists, certainly, but I imagine we’ll also see these discussions arise in games as immersive technology like virtual reality takes hold as well.
Technology isn’t a part of our lives that’s going away any time soon. Many of us wouldn’t consider grafting something in our brains to take phone calls or surf the internet in our heads (yet), but we’ve already integrated with technology via cell phones, tablets, and the Internet in ways that many scientists wouldn’t have dreamt of even just a few years ago. Digital connections change the way we view friendships, political and social awareness, and the responsibilities we have to our jobs, and it’s not a power to underestimate. Gaming’s not always seen as part of the solution to humanity’s growing list of problems, but games can inspire new ways to look at challenges in our world, giving us new angles to solve problems from. I’d expect that partnerships like The Phantom Limb Project are just the beginning of a new style of game-inspired real-world innovation.