What would you say to virtual reality …tomorrow?

Gear & Gadgets Screenshot - Oculus Rift

Virtual reality is somewhat of a running joke in media, alongside other sci-fi and cyberpunk classics like holograms and teleportation. However, as it relates to interactive entertainment, VR can also be labeled a goal, in that genuinely placing the player in a new world encapsulates much of what video games strive to achieve—true immersion. Although we may write off VR gaming as nothing more than a pipe-dream, or an advanced technology that’s decades away from even our newest hardware, recent interest in VR and similar projects has left many to question the potential and viability of the prospect.  

Sony, for example, has spawned a storm of speculation surrounding numerous patents that point toward a head-mounted display. More recently, Valve Managing Director Gabe Newell, while speaking at an online Q&A session between schools (seen above), expressed his interest in “the ability to talk to people’s brains,” and generating images mentally rather than viewing them on a screen. Newell also added that “the fundamental science [behind VR] is being done right now,” suggesting that the once-far-off idea of virtual reality may become relevant relatively (and that’s a big relatively) soon.

VR Getup

Of course, hearsay and crude 3D headsets aren’t going to spur a virtual revolution. However, the contrast between the previous directions—strapping a screen to your face Oculus Rift-style and directly creating images within the brain—poses an interesting question regarding the nature of virtual gaming and how we define it.

Sword Art Online

Obiligatory Sword Art Online reference: A solid first step, if nothing else.

Is VR purely a visual endeavor, in that the player would still manipulate the world through a conventional controller—and not through mental triggers or with their nervous system? Would VR apply solely to a first-person perspective and insert a player into a world directly, or would third-person be viable as well, again questioning the number of senses that would be employed and what role the player would assume. Am I the soldier on the front line or the omnipotent being flying around the battlefield as my resources act as directed? Am I swinging the sword myself, or again seeing my character swing a sword after I hit a button, but seeing it really closely?

More practically speaking, where would VR tech, be it dedicated consoles or peripheral devices, fit in in the gaming market? With consoles only just now agreeing on a common infrastructure and the PS4 and Xbox One still crawling out of the nest, it’s clear that neither the world nor the games industry is ready for a full-fledged VR adoption. With that said, looking at future technology (the obligatory PlayStation 5 and Xbox … Two?), VR isn’t inconceivable.

Mocap

Motion capture could play a role in replicating movement.

If designed as a companion device and included with systems, VR tech—whether that be headsets and heart monitors or sensor-loaded gloves and boots or anything between—would undoubtedly raise the price of the package dramatically. As such, it seems that an independent release and remaining optional would be the safest route for the new field. However, assuming it finds a release foothold to begin with, the issue then becomes garnering software support and building a game library large enough to make upgrading to VR worthwhile.

The more it’s discussed, the easier it is to see how young the idea is; virtual reality has countless what-ifs to answer and loose ends to tie up before it even makes the drawing board. Regardless, one question remains prevalent: Do we even want to experience video games first-hand?

I’m all for racing my own heartbeat in Mirror’s Edge 2, but I’m significantly less eager to stare down the voracious Necromorphs of Dead Space. Will I enjoy the dread and futility of Dark Souls if I’m the unfortunate soul trudging through Lordran? What of Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto: How do I approach flippant murder now that the comfort of a controller has been stripped away?

Dead Space

Not high on my to do list.

No matter how it’s enacted, virtual reality could effectively remove the line that protects the player. We aren’t able to venture through Resistance and Halo just because of the many guns at our disposal with which we so easily dispatch the Chimera and Covenant, but because we realize that the situations we’re seeing are purely fictitious and will therefore have no impact on anything in our world, much less our own being. As someone who would argue vehemently that video games are not just an escapist medium, I have to wonder: If I feel the resistance of the trigger on my own finger and see the eponymous alien menace in front of me, will I behave as though my high score is at risk or as if my life is at stake?   

Dark Souls

Well that looks ... fun.

Of course, for every gut-wrenching moral decision, there’s the raw splendor of running through Journey and the exhilaration of grappling with Shadow of the Colossus; the joy of actually laying eyes on the many high-fantasy RPG landscapes we’ve come to know. This raises yet more questions. Would VR gaming be tailored in such a way that players are inserted only into enjoyable situations, free of potentially traumatizing fear? If virtual reality became the norm, would certain genres—shooters, horror, and others—die off because they suddenly stopped being fun?

Or is the reverse true? Perhaps we’d relish the opportunity to slay dragons in Deep Down and join forces in Destiny as much as we’d like to think we would. It’s tempting to say the least; I know I wouldn’t turn down a sword in one hand and spells in the other. Unfortunately, the only course of action today is to hope VR technology matures quickly enough that we answer these questions before the century ends.

In the meantime, let us know what you think of the idea in the comments below. We’re expecting 86 years’ worth of comments, so get on it. 

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Austin Wood
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