Excitement is building up again in the community, as Occulus Rift is appearing, project Morpheus was announced and somehow Microsoft will bud in. It is this new, hyper modern technology, called VR that seems to set the tone of our new expectations of this age. And why not? There has always been this dream of being part of the game instead of being just the external controller…
…or is it?
Many opinions have been circulating around these notions and some ha e been expectant, others quite skeptical. To be part of this discussion, I have listened to these opinions and tried to find some neutral ground on this. Thus I will first analyze the two main camps on this new technology, then move on to some more current perspectives, to then analyze: is this VR and this helmet really for the gaming of the future? So, let us break this down first:
1. The con: this has been tried!
We already had these tries before. The great fail was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, which not only tried to make VR a reality, but also portable. If you watch AVGN’s review of this though, the flaws were incredible. The pain-inducing red even made watching the review unbearable, and the sheer impractical design just made a generation wait one more day.
This was clearly due to poor technology. Back then VR was a dream of Tron and other Sci-Fi movies, and I feel Nintendo and other companies just rushed to look novel. Some people thus predict it will crash and burn again, not only because of the technology, but because of the practicality; now gaming will require you to wear a helmet for this deeper experience, making a fun afternoon in an adventure, instead of sitting down to relax. I can understand if some people will be against it.
Also, it is being called out as a gimmick, such as the 3D effect in current TVs and the 3DS. While it may be nice, many people end up turning off the effect, since the hassle or just the sickness makes the experience suffer. Development costs will try to create effective and enjoyable titles, but this effect may soon wear off, some reckon.
2. Tomorrow is today: the pros.
On the other hand many people could argue that these problems, especially the dizzy feeling, will subside with more use in time. And this could be true, since the jump to 3D gaming had a similar issue. Today only a few still suffer from ‘motion sickness’, and this is due to the people not getting used to it. A similar effect had happened with the first movie: people ran terrified when they first saw a grainy, black & white train charging towards them. Today, we are barely affected by the grandeur of the Hollywood blockbusters.
Also, the technology is definitely better. Although not totally ripened out, motion control has had a big impact on the market, and 20 years ago we could only dream of that. As an example we have the Power Glove, again from Nintendo, that was terribly inaccurate and difficult to use.
The people just get giddy with the idea of finally participating inside the game, which can revolutionize the way we play games. It has been already called the new way of carrying on the console war. And it definitely is an experiment worth trying.
3. I am too fat to play games.
A comedian (I can not remember who) already said that once when the Wii was released. The idea was to create a new way of approaching games, more proactive and participative instead of sitting passively in the couch. The thing is, it never caught on. Let us analyze it by the results. Even though the motion controls have been around us for years, the preferred method is still sitting down. I remember when Zelda’s Twilight Princess had the option to swing the sword or to just use the controller. My friends just sat down. Even I had to get a Game Cube controller to make my experience with said game more enjoyable. The fact is: most people that play games with a regularity different than for party purposes or the casual fun time usually prefer to sit down, taking the second set of controls.
Second is the space issue. Motion gaming failed also because you had to create a space to be able to play. Even I had trouble playing with a Wii when I had to move the sofa and the living room table to be able to play. Now, this may not seem to be an issue to play a game in VR, since for now it is only a visor, but I have already heard the discussion on how to make the game more real, many times portrayed with the treadmill base, as well as other extras that are not only space consuming, but also seemingly very expensive, no matter how much you mass produce it. Even this little joke by College Humor shows how problematic can an apparatus as complicated as the projected VR future be (not safe for work!).
Not only that, it will require much more movement than before. I can not imagine a person preparing himself half an hour to be connected to the apparatus to enjoy a game, especially after a hard day of work. This would be too complicated and not only obese people would suffer it, but also people on the wheelchair and with other kind of capacity problems. This makes gaming thus less playable, or at least less practical form even more public.
The we have to take into account the labels. Have you seen the labels on a 3DS box? Here, let me quote it:
WARNING Viewing of 3D images by children 6 and under may cause vision damage.
Now, I am trying to be an alarmist, but the fact that we have such a label already tells us that the perception of a developing mind is actually affected by the staring at the 3D screens. I can’t imagine what perception issues the VR visor could cause to children, something that remains to be seen. I really hope for it to be harmless, no more than the occasional epilepsy thing, but then again, this new, untested ground.
I see VR as a reality, but not as a game. If we ever get to that exciting technology, I see it most probably as an experience, much of the like of laser gun fights that existed before, or as Paintball nowadays. Another area it could be perfectly used is for training, a thing that happens today with all the flight simulators.
What do I make of this newest craze? I think it will be fun for a while, and sadly some of the production costs will be sunk in games based on the system. But at the end, when the phone rings or the cat topples over the decorations, you will have to learn to play without the new gimmick. The charm of games, especially console gaming, is in its capacity to immerse yourself in a world as quick as you can turn off the machine, to enjoy 10 minutes to hours of game play and being able to drop the game for a quick toilet break, going for popcorn or just a glass of water. The VR will stay a nice extra to gaming, but I don’t think it will replace the experience, since its impracticalities are just too many, and if you don’t see it now, wait until the experience happens. And much like motion control, it will fade for the more practical way, which seems old, but is even today functional.
We may love and buy in into the new technology, but in the end of the day, when the helmet/visor rests heavy on our head, we will remove it and take the controller like always in our hands, enjoying what we have always done: relaxing on the sofa or on the floor and enjoying the virtual world on a screen.
Unless I am wrong.
Nai ainur raituvar tietyannë!