With the likes of the Oculus Rift approaching, a lot of people are giddy with excitement about the possibilities of being “inside” a game. I however remain skeptical. I have written before about immersion in video games, and I don’t want to sound hypocritical when it comes to the Oculus, but you have to draw a line somewhere. For me, that line is just before sitting in a room with a box strapped to your face, waving your head back and forth like a demonic bobble head.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the use of gadgets and accessories to improve gaming experience. Playing a racing game using a steering wheel is obviously better than a controller. Kinect lets you use voice and movement to manipulate aspects of a game. Your enjoyment of which depends on how much effort you want to spend. TrackIR is another example, allowing you to control camera movement with the movement of your head, but the ratio of movement can be scaled so you never actually have to look away from the monitor, and most importantly it can sit comfortably on a hat. Not stuck to your face.
I don’t want to sound like I’m poo-pooing the device itself. It’s very impressive technically, and I can certainly see why it would appeal to some people. Letting you experience the game as if you were actually there is a great way to build immersion. I could imagine playing a truly frightening horror game while wearing it would be a test for only the bravest of the brave. However for me, personally, I see it as a gimmick. The same goes for 3D movies and games, but that’s another argument entirely.
While I am perfectly happy for people to play games however they like, I have a nagging fear that Virtual Reality might just catch on. There’s a small chance that in ten years from now, people like me who just want to sit in a chair and stare at a TV screen for an hour or two will be left with nowhere to go. I know (I hope) that it’s unlikely that VR will snuff out any traces of “ordinary” gaming, but you never know what the future, and the market, has in store.
The thing that puts me off most is not the current VR systems themselves, but what comes next. Having a box with screens in it strapped to your head is one thing, creating visual and audio immersion, but what happens when that’s not enough?
Here’s what happens: The Matrix. Or Tron. Both of which are scary.
When the technology comes around for full body immersion (is that a phrase?), well that’s just too much for me, I don’t want it. AT ALL. That’s when things get sinister. You get people who decide that the real world isn’t good enough, and I don’t doubt there will be people who will spend their entire lives in a virtual fantasy land. It sounds like a bad science fiction plot, but it’s only fiction because the science isn’t here yet.
I know it may sound silly and ridiculous but it doesn’t mean its not possible. Sword Art Online is an anime that revolves around this idea *mild spoilers ahead*: when millions of people pop on their headgear to immerse themselves into a brand new Virtual Reality MMO, they all find that they are in a bit of a pickle when the “log out” option is missing. Unable to be removed from their VR gear, the trapped victims are forced to live out years of their life in the game until someone can beat the final boss of the game. Not the best situation, but it could be worse. Oh wait, if you die in the game you die in real life too? Oh…
Okay I know that was a bit of a tangent, but my point is this: The Oculus (and similar) may be the best thing ever for a great many people, but it doesn’t grab me. I am content to sit and play games using nothing but my thumbs and a big TV screen, and I am sure there are others like me. There’s room in the world for both. I just hope that the dawn of Virtual Reality doesn’t encroach on the established way that many of us know and love and are happy with. Also don’t make the Matrix a thing. Just don’t. Please.
Are you excited about Virtual Reality? Do you share the same irrational fear and paranoia as me? Let us know in the comments below.