half-life_2_04_1024 I play a lot of video games and I’m particularly keen on the FPS style of game. For those who don’t know, FPS is short for First Person Shooter. This is a style of video game where the presentation on-screen is done right through the eyes of the character you’re playing, as if you’re in their skull, looking through their eyes. It’s particularly immersive and some of the greatest selling video games have been FPS style. Half-Life 2 (left) is one of the best and most well known of the genre.

But how do we perceive things as a first person in a world that does not exist?

Most FPS games have some kind of on-screen map so you can tell where you’re going, where enemies are, in which direction your objectives lie, and so on. There are basically two ways to display this map and I’ve become very familiar with both.

The first way is that you are a point on the map, which scrolls with you. The map itself is always oriented to the north no matter which way you are going.

The other way is that the maps spins with your perspective. So the map is oriented to the direction you’re currently looking.

So what’s better? And what does that say about our perceptions of direction in the real world and the virtual world. Researchers are working on this question, but what in the hell does it have to do with you? You don’t have some miniature map that points the way on your heads up display, do you?

Well, yes you do. And such things are becoming more and more common as handheld GPS shows up in standalone devices, phones, cars, and anything else they might think to stuff one into. Now you ask yourself a question. You’re traveling in an unfamiliar locale and you whip out your GPS. Do you want the map to rotate based on where you’re looking, or do you want to be a blip on a stationary map oriented to the north?

Just another way that the real world imposes itself on video games and vice versa.

One funny note. Many notice that Dr. Gordon Freeman, the main character of Half-Life 2 who’s sporting the glasses and crowbar in the picture above, bears an uncanny resemblance to another famous fictional doctor.