It’s an interesting philosophical question:
Is it possible to create a game that’s more complex than real life?
I’d answer yes. One possibility is, once we’ve discovered and recorded everything about the universe and thus can simulate it, to add one more feature (time travel or an extra element on the periodic table). In terms of simply making a game more difficult there are already games that are impossible to beat. When I say complexity I mean sheer number of possible states/actors and outcomes. Obviously we may never discover and be able to simulate the universe but we may create our own. In terms of sheer processing power we aren’t even close, but one can imagine in the future an alternate game world that’s more complex than our own. If nothing else it would be possible to make the user feel as if the world was more complex, as we are limited to a human understanding of the world. It’s then a question of whether using imagination/creativity we can conceive of or design a world more complex. Certainly a computer more powerful than the human brain could, but I would also argue that we can add complexity to a game without understanding what we are adding entirely (since we don’t understand anything “entirely” anyways).
In the short term we could settle with making a game more complex than a sport [also a game, for those sports fans out there who deny video gaming can be a sport. Just like games are art (if mostly bad art), video games can be sports (just bad sports although Counter-Strike and Starcraft are pretty good examples)].
Obviously games exist, like the ones I just mentioned, where there is enough complexity that no human can play the perfect strategy and win every time. This means that there is the possibility of competition for mastery; although one can compete to master almost anything in terms of time spent or average success, these sorts of games are more interesting.
A sport, in terms of complexity due to physical, human, and social interactions is much more complicated although perhaps similar in terms of human understanding. So, like our earlier problem, the key is to make a game more complex in terms of human understanding. Uniball I think comes closer than maybe CS or SC especially in terms of being open about what it is (the former two are only sports when played by the hardcore, although perhaps that’s what defines a sport).
But to challenge sports, it’s easier to move towards more complicated interactions and a 3D space. Wii bowling is an example, and I’ll quote John Harris’ recent Gamasutra article Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes on the subject:
“Bowling: The best-realized sport on the disk. Moving the controller like a bowling ball may not be exactly like real bowling, but it’s close enough for most people, and it’s not too much easier to bowl a perfect game. The game even infuriates sometimes with the degree that unintentional wrist twists can put spin on the ball — and that is like real bowling.” (bolding mine)
So there’s my challenge, although obviously no million dollar cash prize for the first video game to do this is coming from me. Army simulation people, however, do get huge government grants to develop realistic training games. And EA Sports are making megabucks from their (relatively speaking) simple sports simulations.