The Uncanny Valley

I used to enjoy computer games. Having a small child means time becomes a lot more valuable, and one of the casualties for me was the gaming. I’m still interested in the gaming industry though, so some announcements catch my attention.

One of the problems I always had with games which try to present a reality containing actual humans was that the humans never looked quite right. That lack of rightness had a fundamental psychological effect which made it difficult to believe in the characters you were seeing. This isn’t just a problem in gaming; animated movies have the same problem, which is why the more successful computer animated movies are those that don’t have too many humans, or that make the human characters ‘cartoony’.

For example, Polar Express was a good movie, but it tried too hard to make the human characters look really human, and it didn’t quite work. The animated Tom Hanks just looked slightly wrong.

What I didn’t know until today was that this phenomenon has a name. It’s been called the “uncanny valley”, the point where human likeness is almost, but not quite reached. And apparenty the valley has been bridged. According to the chief honcho at game developer Quantic Dream – “I can officially announce that there is no uncanny valley any more, not in real-time.”.

I’m skeptical until they release a demo, but it has to happen at some point.

2 thoughts on “The Uncanny Valley”

  1. Surely one of the things that has to happen to achieve this is to create an absolute 3D environment such as hologram or whatever…

    In movies that is always implicit without actuially happening and it’s what defines the real life from the animated. Ask Paula Abdul.

    I like my Laura Croft in 2D all the same.

  2. When you can’t tell the difference between an animated on-screen character and a real-life on-screen actor then the uncanny valley has been bridged.

    Gollum was an incredible piece of animation, fitting in totally with the “real” surroundings, but if they’d tried to make him human, tried to make him look like Andy Serkis it would’ve been a failure.

    So Paula Abdul is real?

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