The promise of virtual reality has been tried many times in the past but has always largely failed. As a child I can remember hearing about Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and being elated at the thought of a VR gaming platform. Being a little kid that thought anything was possible gave me such a sense of hope that it would be everything I thought it could be. When I actually saw screenshots of the gameplay on the Virtual Boy I was instantly disappointed by the monochrome red graphics. I had been duped.
Another phenomenon from my youth was VR stores in the mall that rented time on high tech visors that let you look around and play in a crappy game that never really felt like a lot of fun. It looked pretty awesome from the outside though! I can remember watching movies like Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity that tricked my underdeveloped brain into thinking that real VR was just around the corner.
Of course, it was not around the corner and the idea of ever being able to own my own VR headset faded away. Now, in 2016 we have 2 big players entering this market with OLED screens, better tracking, better graphics, and more software support. The Oculus Rift was the first project I had heard about a few years ago. I saw YouTube videos of people with developer models reacting to roller coasters and games and it looked like they were having a lot of fun. More recently, I have seen the HTC Vive and it looks to be a strong player as well with the support of Valve. Both systems will be released to the public this Spring.
I am so excited to at least try these new headsets out in a store even if I don’t buy one. VR is one of those things you can’t just watch a video about online. No article or video is going to do the job of showing you the experience of the device. That’s what is so interesting about VR though. It is a new platform that we all only have a vague idea of how it will look and feel. Growing up in the 90s has taught me to be a sceptic when it comes to VR. Nobody has been able to get it right yet. On paper, VR seems like something that should already exist and be ubiquitous. Of course people would want a more immersive way to interact with technology, right? It’s so cool! Right?
VR has several things going against it that will make even great technology hard to adapt into the mainstream.
- You look like a fool with that damn thing on your head.
- Cost. This is expected for new tech but $800 for a Vive plus a powerful PC to run it is out of most people’s price range for a toy. (I still really want one)
- To cut down on the weight of a battery, you have to deal with a long wire from the headset to your PC / outlet that you can trip over.
- Laziness. I remember waiting in line with my friend Brandon on launch night of the Nintendo Wii. We were excited for the motion controls and to once again be playing a Nintendo console, a brand that had given us countless hours of enjoyment as kids. The Wii remotes were neat for a while but we mostly played Wii sports and within a year or so, our shiny white consoles were gathering dust. I think a lot of that has to do with the energy it takes you wave a Wii remote around. It sounds terrible but it is true. Now, imagine having to clear out a room, put on a visor, hold 2 controllers, and physically move your flabby body around to play a game. It takes some motivation that more and more, people just don’t have.
- Lack of control. While, I have seen some neat games make clever use of the motion controls, it still seems to lack a lot of precision. Right now, you can point to things and crudely manipulate them in VR. You have no use of fine dexterity that having 10 fingers and tactile response affords us in the real world. That means that your VR actions have to be dumbed down to work. I can see this as being frustrating after half an hour or so.
- Using VR is especially antisocial for people close to you. Using your VR headset means checking out from the people around you and that can be hard. Even with phones, tablets, laptops, and PCs you can carry a half assed conversation with the people that matter most to you in this world. You can’t even feign interest in a conversation when you are jacked into a VR realm. Sorry kids, Daddy can’t hear about your bad day. He needs to pretend he is slicing fruit with a samurai sword in a virtual world for 3 and a half hours.
- You still look like a dingus with that fucking thing on your head.
I know I just listed a bunch of reasons why VR headsets will fail but I actually really want them to succeed so badly. I just love the idea of being totally immersed into something. As with anything, moderation is best for this type of thing but it just seems like a beautiful escape. I setup a theater room into the last 3 houses I have lived in for the same reason. I love to have a place set aside where I can just get away from the distractions and focus on one thing for a couple hours. This seems like the perfect platform to disconnect from your day to day and experience something different. I can’t wait to see how it all goes this year.