VR is finally almost the thing the 90s promised us it would be. The ability to slip into a second skin to live and experience a fully virtual world is something that has fascinated humanity from the fringes of science fiction bordering on reality for the last three decades.
But is it the next evolution of gaming, or is it destined to the same fate of the Virtual Boy?
Reality, as usually is the case, is somewhere in between.
First thing to remember - it is just a tool. Controller and screens are nothing but tools for us to be able to view and interact in the digital world. VR is no different, it’s just a different take on the interactivity.
Second thing - we are only now coming to a point where technology has caught up to the ability to deliver on the promise of VR, and it is the first time that VR has been available for widespread development and consumption. In other words, there has never really been a reason to seriously pursue developing for VR beyond curiosity or lab scenarios. With the wider availability and adoption, the development and use of the tool will grow and be refined exponentially quickly.
But remember, while we have had the promise for decades, the realization is only beginning in earnest now. I am fully aware of this, but there is a nagging thought in the back of my head that causes me concern, and it has to do with versatility.
Almost any VR game ever has been presented in the First Person View. This is the natural take, as the VR goggles are intended to insert you as a person into another world; you aren’t there to merely view the world, but experience it as an a replacement to the real world. The difficulty I have when it comes to games is that the FPV isn’t ubiquitous. It is a POV specific to certain categories.
So the question becomes; how versatile is this tool and can it be leveraged in ways other than FPV?
I read articles like this to try and figure out other applications, and what I come away with is more questions; why would I want to have to walk around a level, when floating cameras already exist and don’t require me to walk around a room? Why not just move the camera with my controller like I do now? I almost view it as creating more complexity and taking away from my playing the game in order to play effectively.
I know there are people much smarter than me giving these things much more thought, and that VR will be leveraged in many different ways in the future, potentially even replacing monitors altogether (certainly not in the near future though).
I’ve dreamed of playing games like Gran Turismo, Ace Combat, Battletech, and more using VR. The ability to get inside a vehicle like you do your car and look around for buttons or switches as well as spatial awareness really brings immersion to a different level. In those kinds of games, you are already in a FPV, and I’m sure that translates to a ton of other games that already exist in FPV. It may even be something that could be adapted to games with a relatively fixed frame of reference, like RTS or MOBA style games, giving you the ability to track your character and also give you flexibility to glance with your peripheral vision.
I think the difficulty has to do with that frame of reference. The ability to provide the human body unlimited virtual mobility in a physical space is not something that can be realized at this stage. Maybe a solution is found down the road, but I don’t think we’re looking at a peripheral at that point which makes sense for the majority of the gaming populace. Fixed frame of reference where a person is controlling something in view, but not having to physically move themselves in order to manipulate the world is an answer, but it takes away the VR experiences we’ve always been sold and replaces it with something of a different take on the monitor we already use.
I don’t mind that thought whatsoever, but it’s certainly a far cry from the intended 1:1 real world replacement that VR currently delivers. So what we’re left with is something of a niche tool. It’s not as limited as say Rock Back peripherals, but it’s certainly something that when used as intended doesn’t have universal appeal or application.
Cost concerns aside (for purposes of wider adoption), I believe that this will be the battle VR faces for itself. How will VR equipment and capabilities be integrated into more aspects of gaming as a whole, or will it be relegated to a niche role?