I first experienced ‘virtual reality’ in 1996, when I visited the National Science Center to see an exhibition on the future of gaming. Strapped into a makeshift helmet, I played a round or two of classic DOOM with a basic handheld controller. While its implementation was overly simplistic by today’s standards, I was quite immersed in the session. With the screen wrapped around my field of vision, I nearly pulled away from the machine in an attempt to ‘move’ in game – despite there being no head tracking to emulate my movement.
“This is what gaming will be like someday,” said the attendant, as she helped me out of the helmet. “VR headsets will be common in the homes of the future.” I remember being impressed by the thought of it, but wondered if such a technology would be too niche or expensive to own, even in the future.
Fast forward 20 years later, we have finally caught up with those dreams of VR. With today’s processing power and advanced technologies that enable depth, orientation, and positional tracking, we are able to experience VR in the comfort of our homes or anywhere on the go with our smartphone – the latter of which is possible, thanks to built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes.
The advent of VR opens up new dimensions in video gaming, as it enables players to see the virtual world from a first-person perspective. While video games have already been an active experience, VR makes it all the more personalized and engrossing, as it literally puts players in the shoes of the protagonists, and gives developers new, innovative ways of telling stories.
Cue products like Supermassive Games’ The Inpatient, which will be released later this month. The psychological horror puts players in the eyes of a patient locked in a strange medical facility, which slowly unravels its secrets as players progress in the game. It is an experience that only VR can offer, which can be both stressful and exciting (that is, if you are a horror buff).
From exploring outer space to diving into the deep sea, VR gives gamers new worlds to discover in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible. By combining the use of remote controllers, which facilitate interaction within the virtual world, players can get a more immersive experience than before. Gone are the days we play from the comfort of our couch. These days, we are expected to move around a virtual room by actually walking in the space around us.
The good news is that most VR experiences today are not expensive or inaccessible, and devices can be easily purchased from your neighborhood electronics store. While there are varying platforms for these different VR headsets, ranging from Sony’s PlayStation VR for the PS4, to the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive for the PC, the promise of VR remains the same: providing complete escapism.
Despite that, VR as a technology is relatively new, and consumers have yet to warm up to its offerings. Not everyone is able to strap into a headset without leaving abruptly when they begin to experience motion sickness and nausea, as the body attempts to balance and cope with the illusion of movement. This often happens to those who play firstperson games as well, so unless players are accustomed to navigating a digital space in first-person view, expect VR to create some form of disorientation.
Yet there is a lot of room for growth in VR, and as the technology improves, we can look forward to better experiences in the future. From headsets with higher pixel density and visual fidelity, to the possibility of incorporating 3D, who knows where VR is headed? One thing is for sure, and it is clear that while VR is here to stay, not every ‘home of the future’ will find a place for it.