“Pick up the gun and kill him, Grandma!”
TL:DR: VR experiences- when designed optimally- are a natural extension to the human experience because they build on our knowledge of the real world. That’s why VR is indeed The Next Big Thing. VR will be applied to games, military, education, film and more in the coming years.
It’s Thanksgiving today. I brought my laptop and VR headset over to my uncle’s house to let my relatives try out VR. Between my mother, brother, cousins, aunts and uncles, they all had a blast shooting rogue robots in Robo Recall. Some of them had minor experience with video games or none at all, yet they all understood how the real world operated, thus they mostly knew how the game operated.
See something you want? Pick it up. Enemy running at you? Shoot him or grab him. Want to open the drawer? Just open the damned drawer. You don’t need to press X to “use” an object or Y to duck- just do it.
Even though my aunt probably touched a video game only a handful of times in her life, she utterly dominated the target practice in Robo Recall, landing perfect shots every time. Probably because she’s been to a real gun range before.
Here are some common talking points regarding the state of VR, along with my current outlook on each topic:
- “You might get motion sickness.”
It’s true that your stomach might start to churn if you’re flipping, flying and rolling around in VR. Developers are getting better at understanding why that happens and how to mitigate it. Games are often categorized and reviewed based on their comfort level, so the community helps shine light on problematic VR software.
- “You become isolated from others.”
That was true in the early stages of VR, but we’re starting to see VR games with online multiplayer as well as asymetrical local multiplayer (where one person wears the headset and others contribute to the game alternatively). But even with plain ol’ singleplayer VR, you can see through the eyes of the player on the monitor/TV and it’s hilarious watching your friends and family experience fear, excitement and alertness in ways they normally wouldn’t. Commotion makes nearby spectators curious to try VR for themselves.
- “It’s very demanding on hardware.”
Yes, it is. Normally, games render to a single screen. VR requires rendering once for each eye, which- at 1080p per eye- doubles the amount of work required, compared to a standard game. Additionally, it is recommended to keep performance in the 90fps range, which is not easy at such a high resolution. But we’re seeing phones tote 4GB+ of memory with quad-core CPUs and increasingly powerful GPUs. For most tasks, that would be utter overkill, but in the context of VR, it’s the tip of the iceberg. Phone manufactures are seemingly gearing up for VR-level performance. And the console manufactures are pushing for 4K not only because it looks nicer on the TV, but because it unlocks the potential for smooth VR experiences.
- “Not everyone has physical space to move around.”
This is a new challenge for game developers. Firstly- moving around in VR is something that must be handled with care, or else the player will get motion sickness. As a result, most games are designed for you to be either sitting down or standing up in a stationary area. Either way- in order to move around the VR environment- you’d usually teleport from spot to spot and use the controller to adjust your orientation. For shooter games, standing definitely enhances the experience. For vehicular games, sitting is perfect and it’s natural to use an interface (steering wheel/gamepad) to control movement. If you don’t have space to stand and move within a 3-foot radius, then you won’t be able to take full advantage of what VR has to offer, but there’s no shortage of sit-down experiences.
- “The wires get in the way”
Nah, they don’t. They’re really really long and the Rift lets you draw out your personally designated boundary so that if you step outside of it, you see a virtual representation of it in the game. This helps prevent you from smacking the wall and stops you from backing too far from the machine and yanking out the cables.
- “It’s just a gimmick and won’t be used for serious stuff.”
That’s dead wrong. We’ve been able to render virtual worlds for over 2 decades now, but seeing everything on a flat screen while using a mouse/keyboard/gamepad as an input device doesn’t feel very immersive. When you fill your whole peripheral vision with the virtual world and use motion controllers to track your hand positions, then everything becomes natural and there’s no need to memorize key bindings or gamepad controls. The experiences and muscle memory can transfer directly to and from the real world.
What that means is that just about anyone can hop into a VR headset and use the motion controls to shoot enemies, fly planes, drive cars or climb mountains. The natural instincts start to kick in and the experience is much more natural than non-VR experiences.
I imagine that VR simulations will become a Goliath of an industry as we train civilians to do higher skilled jobs. Military will adopt it to reconstruct the real world in VR and navigate it for intel. The film industry will adopt it in order to traverse a CGI scene and find the perfect camera angle. General education will adopt it in order to visualize mathematical concepts and illustrate real-world applications for each lesson.
VR will push society into the next age of enlightenment.