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The future of the GUI in gaming

Images, especially moving images, are more powerful representations of spatial relations than texts, and therefore this migration from text to graphics is natural and inevitable. (Aarseth 102)

There's been some controversy lately surrounding the GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) used in video and computer games, particularly FPS (First-Person Shooter) games. The focus is on the shift towards cleaner GUIs that require less on-screen clutter at all times.

Developers are starting to use graphics and sound to replace the text (and sometimes old-school, basic imagery) of dialogue, ammo counters, health bars, etc. Rather than alert a player that he has low life with a bar that slowly decreases in size, for instance, developers are alternatively using sounds like heavy breathing and steady, pulsating visual effects. Rather than alert a player to the fact that he's out of ammo with a "0" somewhere on his screen, developers are instead using a sound effect for an empty clip.

While most critics seem to agree that this makes games more immersive, it's met with some resistance because it requires the player to adapt to a completely new set of cues for each game. Eventually it might be standardized, I suppose, but that seems unlikely since it would go against the inherent purpose of the shift to new visual and auditory cues; that is, letting developers experiment with ideas that are less and less intrusive.

Personally, as an avid gamer, I prefer a clean interface that combines text and graphics and uses the advantages of both to good effect. Most commercially and critically successful CRPGs (Computer Roleplaying Games), for instance, have mastered this art (take Bethesda's Oblivion or Obsidian's Neverwinter Nights 2, as examples).



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