Lifelike is an adjective that relates to anything that simulates real life, in accordance with its laws. Its goal is to immerse individuals into what is called a lifelike experience. It gets as close as possible to real life behavior, appearance, senses, etc. therefore enabling its subject to experience what is happening as if it were real. In other words, simulating reality with its physical laws is the objective of lifelike experience.
Lifelike experience is an idea which has evolved since the time when a painting was considered lifelike. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is famous for the ambiguity of the subject's expression, the monumentality of the composition, and the subtle modeling of forms and atmospheric illusionism which contributed to the continuing fascination of the work. A whole painting technique has been created pursuing the goal of the lifelike art form, called trompe-l'œil, involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three dimensions.
However, this perception was replaced by photographs and then by digital ones that depict reality even further. Today, a digital picture is considered closer to lifelike if it is compared to a raw painting. It is the same pattern with motion picturess compared to still photos and with 3D movies compared to 2D films, etc. Each new medium or technology brings people closer to a truer lifelike experience.
There is only one thing which remains consistent – people must consider the experience suits real life laws. For example, to be absolutely lifelike, a digital guitar must behave exactly the same way the real object does: if someone plays the E string with a plectrum on the fifth fret, it will produce an A note with a particular sound. This same action will produce a different sound with fingerstyle technique. If someone decides to burn the guitar, it will burn in a predictable way according to its materials, the environment, the combustible, etc.
Consequently, anything said to be lifelike has to comply with real life rules. It only conceptualizes real life to reproduce it, using laws of physics, chemistry, etc. to make it the experience lifelike. Another example would be a digital ball staying up in the air, floating. This would not be lifelike since it ignores gravity. Its movement needs to fit nature’s laws, thus falling on the ground and then bouncing in a specific direction, according to its initial place and forces applicable.
Going further would be adding every human sense: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Several works have been done (or are undergoing) to try to simulate each one. For example, haptic technology is trying to emulate physical contact by taking advantage of a user's sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, and/or motions to the user.
Although almost anything can be considered as lifelike according to people’s perception, digital products have initially been thought of and developed to virtually prototype expensive goods, thus modeling what could be the final physical product. This process allows creators to find beforehand what could be its design, engineering, regulatory or other issues. Architects can also use lifelike experience to prototype a building and its environment. For example they would use maps to represent a city to build, trying to maximize road traffic, thus avoiding traffic jam.
Today, very sophisticated software does this as accurately as possible. Whether they are in 3D, use augmented reality or not, their purpose is to virtually model desired goods and then modify them to eventually reach the final version, hopefully problem-free.
Just like Serious Games, this constitutes a “radical fictional work” - both consumers and companies can improve their experience using lifelike products. Companies can create products more efficiently. On the other hand, their consumers can try them out, without the geographical constraint of a real-life store, without being afraid of breaking the products, etc.
This gap between old and new lifelike products is based on virtual reality, i.e. computer-simulated environments.
As for today, the best example of a lifelike experience remains the short film World Builder where a man builds an entire city for his dying loved one to enjoy, virtually.
Another example is the movie The Matrix where most of the characters pass from the real world to The Matrix, a virtual one.
In these two examples, characters interact with objects, people and more generally a whole world which looks and acts real but is in fact virtual. They illustrate what is the goal of the lifelike concept – allowing people to enjoy reality with improved possibilities such as looking at a product from any perspective, testing its strength, checking whether it suits them or not, changing its color instantly, etc.
Also as another example, the movie Inception also has lifelike experience through the world of dreams.
As video games have grown in popularity during the last two decades, the army uses them to prepare their soldiers for different situations they may face. Even if today’s technology is still not powerful enough, most military personnel underline how useful it was to learn through lifelike experience software in addition to their classical training.
Everyday life applications
One of the most common lifelike experiences is when people learn how to drive. In France for example, driving students pass an exam looking at a screen representing a driving situation, with a question. For example, the screen shows a one-way street and the question is whether or not the user can go in. This represents a lifelike situation where contestants have to answer according to real life laws (the code of the road).