Virtual Reality – An Outsider’s Perspective – October 2016

Editorial Note: I am aware that The Jimquisition video ‘Virtual Real Talk‘ released on October 10, 2016, and makes a lot of the same points I make in this article. While to me, it doesn’t matter to be first for being first’s sake, please be aware that due to my schedule which places my articles’ release on the final Sunday of every month, this article will be coming out a couple weeks after the video despite having been finished around September. My thoughts and perspective are still my own, and I was not attempting to piggyback off of, or copy Jim Sterling. That said, feel free to click the link above to see his video, it’s a good one and I hold a lot of the same sentiments.

I think I can safely say that from the very beginning, I always thought Virtual Reality, or VR, was going to be a fad. And honestly, I could be wrong, but I still feel like that’s the case.

Now, full disclosure, I’ve never used any sort of VR headset in my entire life (outside of the Virtual Boy, but that hardly counts). So I’ll be honest, I could very well plop a Vive on my head and immediately be converted by tomorrow, but as it stands right now, I don’t get the huge push for VR.

What confuses me is that this heavy a push for what I perceive to be a fad hasn’t been done before. Curved TVs, the 3D push that barely lasted at all, hell, even motion controls seemed to be a failed push by anyone besides Nintendo. But everyone seems to be trying to get in on the VR game (except Nintendo, seemingly, unless the currently unknown NX proves me wrong there).

As far as I’m concerned, VR can’t succeed unless it has the accessibility and price nearly equivalent to a modern console. As it stands, VR still seems quite expensive and, more importantly, extremely unwieldy in comparison to consoles. The Vive sounds like a nightmare to set up logistically, with sensors on all corners of a given room, either having to convert one’s living room or bedroom for Vive use, or needing an entirely separate room altogether, and what average consumer has an entire spare room they can use? Who really wants to go through such trials and tribulations all to play a game of invisible whack-a-mole, or a game that you could just as easily pick up a controller and play instead?

I’ll never understand the appeal – I just googled Fallout 4 VR and so many of the articles’ titles are along the lines of ‘sounds awesome and fun in theory, but is totally impractical’. But it never sounded fun to me at all. Why would I want to play Fallout 4 while having to stand up and move around, having to be aware of where I might bump into my TV or my coffee table or my cat when I could just as easily sit down with a controller and immerse myself without having to stumble around like a damn buffoon, and not be limited in my movement in-game? The more I think about it, the more I feel like the only way VR would ever really capture the majority of people’s hearts who play games is if it literally got to near-holodeck levels of technology (even that would be impractical, though, because not everyone has a spare room they can dedicate to that). And if VR doesn’t capture the majority of people who play games already, how can it ever hope to succeed in any capacity?

The Oculus Rift and Playstation VR are even more baffling to me. In both instances, one seems to have a cord coming out of the headpiece necessary (could be the case with Vive too, although I couldn’t find pictures. If it is, this applies to the Vive too). This means one can’t get up and move around too terribly much. Automatically, this restricts any sort of immersive experience to indoors, since anything outdoors wouldn’t make sense unless there were some sort of invisible cube. Guess what’s indoors? Walls. Shelves. Coffee tables. Couches or other seating. Maybe your bed if you’re in your room or in a studio apartment. Everything to trip on. Additionally, you’ve got what essentially amounts to one Wiimote in each hand, which is fine I suppose, if a player can handle having a controller the whole time without breaking immersion, they can handle that too as long as there’s no lag.

So far, an immersive gaming experience on a VR system is restricted to being (1) in first-person, (2) mostly indoors, and (3) mostly static as far as the human’s own movement goes so long as there are cords involved. Already this sounds like a bad deal to me in comparison to the versatility of games one can get in basically any console. It only seems even more pointless to me when I think that, in essence, the only thing VR serves to be at this point is a combination of motion controls (which I personally never cared for, but if the sales of the Wii have anything to say, I’m in the minority there) and your head replacing camera controls.

Which to me begs the question, in every single instance of a game being for VR, how would it be made lesser if it were instead made as a regular console game? In my eyes, making a game for VR only limits and restricts its potential, and gimmicks that are little more than restrictive are, to me, are what often signals a fad. I look at a game like The Climb and think to myself ‘Okay, but my hands are disembodied, if they’re trying to make this a more immersive experience than if I were just sitting down with a controller, it’s already failed there. And if they’d made this for console, maybe they would have had more time to polish it up and make it truly great – Grow Home proved that a game pretty much only about climbing up could work on console.’

When I look at VR games, I almost always see restrictive experiences that could have been far more polished if they were on a traditional console, and I ask myself ‘Why would this be any worse on console?’ When I see console games coming to VR like Fallout 4 and Doom, I can’t help but ask myself, ‘Why would I play this in VR when I could have a more relaxing, less restrictive, and overall less janky experience playing it on my console or computer normally?’

And maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the general interest of VR is waning over time. The only people I hear even talking about it nowadays is those whom it’s their jobs to review games and gaming products. Other than that, it seems an air of apathy hangs over VR as of late.

Of course, keep in mind this is from the perspective of one that has yet to experience VR firsthand, and of the perspective of a poor-ass college student that can’t afford even a modern gaming console without having to save up for a solid few months beforehand and planning a budget around it. I don’t feel like my situation is atypical, but if I do experience VR and fall in love with it, I’ll come back to announce to the world just how far my foot has entered my mouth. As of now, however, I don’t see VR as a realistic way forward at all.

Who knows, though? Maybe Resident Evil VII will legitimize VR for me. Happy Halloween, by the way, for all when this goes up!

(Written September 10, 2016)


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