In what may be the best chunk of news I could have found today outside of my discovery that burritos are now available for free thanks to a special program to increase burrito awareness, I discovered that not only is an actual genuine holodeck
under development, but it's also using current technology and really only needs one thing. What is this one thing and how can I supply it in exchange for a free holodeck, you may be asking. As it turns out, the one thing that's really needed for a holodeck is the next killer app.
First, a bit of background: one of the writers from Star Trek: The Next Generation
--Lee Sheldon, who also had a producer role with the show--eventually became an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and he actually got some grant money to create what's being called the Emergent Reality Lab. That's a fancy name for what is essentially a first-generation holodeck, and he and his team are making it with current off-the-shelf parts. What's more, even Sheldon admits that they're not the first ones to be doing something like this. However, he discussed an environment that featured a whole lot of things not normally found in gaming that would be a part of the Emergent Reality Lab, like omni-directional treadmill floors and devices that could release smells into a room.
Naturally, it's not completely Star Trek-grade yet. There are no force fields to project to simulate textures, no automatic replicators to add consumable elements like food. But what it is is the start of a whole new kind of gaming experience that, according to Sheldon, is going to need a whole new brand of game writer. Specifically, a kind of game writer that can make the player feel in control, but is actually, quietly, leading the character through the plot in question. When a player can just throw up their hands and say "I'm out!" before wandering in a different direction, that does sort of change the dynamics of gaming quite a bit.
It could well be that, in the future, more games will end up like the Fallout
or Elder Scrolls series, games that have a central plotline but don't specifically require that it be followed immediately. The kind of games that allow a player to go where they like inside the confines of a larger world, eventually reaching at least one end.
The future of gaming is the kind of thing that's always in flux, but that's why a lot of gamers stick around. After all, it's hard to resist the thrill of "what's coming next", and that's a thrill that gaming has in spades.