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    Fantasy and Reality: Interfaces in Movies and Games

    The interfaces we encounter in movies or computer games tend to be far from reality. ACCESS DENIED, the flutter on the keys and the absence of the usual operating systems and programs: all this has long become a commonplace. Nevertheless, in almost every sci-fi movie, designers come up with more and more fancy interfaces. What do they look like and how are they different from the real ones?

    First personal computers were created in the 70s. They were produced by only a few companies, but all had one thing in common: the interfaces of the first PCs were as simple as it was possible. When you look at the photos of working computers half a century ago, it becomes clear what inspired designers who created interfaces for hackers in movies and for The Matrix title sequence.

    Blake Patterson / Flickr

    Computers in the 70s’ science fiction films were astonishing in their features. And it wasn’t just about the operability; their appearance was striking too. Compare, for instance, the personal computers’ interfaces and spacecraft control interfaces in the Alien movie.

    Alien, 1979 / 20th Century Fox20th Century Fox

    One could blame creators for being unrealistic, but science fiction films are firstly fiction, and secondly films made to impress us by all means.

    Entertainment is not the main distinguishing feature of the 70-80s’ movies. But it makes proper effect, and filmmakers look for more and more new ways to surprise us.

    After the interfaces that look like the pictures of abstractionists, futuristic 3D-interfaces appear. Like in the Minority Report movie.

    Картинки по запросу minority report ui gif
    Minority Report, 2002 / 20th Century Fox

    In a movie or a game where the protagonist controls a starship or is in a secret intelligence service, he or she will most likely use a colorful and dynamic interface overloaded with information, interactive elements, a bunch of graphs, and 3D models.

    In reality, space interfaces don’t look so futuristic. Here for example is what you can see on one of the International Space Station control screens.

    The Mission Control Center doesn’t either show our planet as a 3D hologram.

    In addition to the colorful variety of starship computers, we all saw hackers’ work in movies, and more than once: the character knocks on the keys at a breakneck speed, there are many incomprehensible characters on the screen that are typed in a bright color on a black background.

    There is a popular hacking simulator that is called nmap. It’s a program for scanning networks. It has a lot of numbers, an ultra-minimalistic design, or rather, there is no design at all.

    In some cases, in order to demonstrate the hacking, almost identical interfaces are created. They look spectacular, but are not even close to reality.

    If you look closely, you can see Russian words in the Iron Man 2 movie: “No conditioners found with the parameters found” («Кондиционеров с найденными параметрами не найдено»). It is unlikely that Tony Stark wanted to order a Russian conditioner for a suit; rather, the interface designers simply copied a part of the code from a Russian site.

    Iron Man 2, 2010 / Paramount Pictures

    The reality looks a lot more boring. In most cases it all comes down to finding system’s vulnerabilities and their exploitation.

    Another catchy feature is the cards. They can be both holographic and standard, but in the second case they will still look as fantastic as possible.

    It is very impressive when a security agent finds the right person in a giant database with a single keystroke. Photos rapidly replace one another so that we have no doubt – the director has a lot of photos in store to simulate a database.

    And once again, in this case the reality is inferior to entertainment.
    Virtual reality is often more attractive, and movies are more beautiful than real life. It is not surprising that many speculate that sooner or later humanity may prefer virtuality to reality. However, here we are kept real by the fact that movies are unable to let us taste pizza or feel the touch of warm spring wind. At least for now.

    Aleksander Kosovan

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