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What I Learned From Spending An Afternoon In Virtual Reality

VR is the next big thing in gaming. People call it the next big fad and compare it to Google Glass or last video game generation’s fascination with motion controls, but it’s a big thing and isn’t going away.

Recently, I decided to try it out. I have a friend who had purchased an HTC Vive and was willing to let me spend some quality time delving into VR gaming, and here are some of my thoughts about the experience.

Note: This isn’t a review of the HTC Vive or any of the games I’ve played. This is simply some thoughts on VR as a whole and some of the ways it can impact both the video game industry and the world.

It’s Another Level of Immersion

Previously, I’ve played a little bit with Google Cardboard and 360 degree videos, so I went into my afternoon expecting a similar experience. I predicted it to be like strapping a TV to my head and having a controller in my hand.

After a brief explanation from my friend about the controls, he handed me the headset. A few seconds later, I was no longer in his living room. I was in the middle of an empty field at night, hearing crickets chirp softly in the darkness. A message flashes, telling me to shoot to begin. I pull the trigger on my controller and zombies begin to surround me. My heart is pounding as I take aim and shoot each in the head. I have to constantly turn around to find them and all I can hear is their moans, shrieks and grunts. Suddenly, a single loud moan demands my attention. I spin around and my vision is filled with the unsettling sight of a zombie. I jump in fright and unload my entire clip into it, but it still kills me.

brookhaven experimentDuring this time, my brain knew I was safe at my friends house, but at the same time it didn’t. My other senses, specifically my eyes and ears, were tricking me into fully thinking I was in that zombie infested field. Couple that with physically moving my hands and arms to aim the gun, and I would have sworn in those few minutes I played that the world had ended and I was a sole survivor.

The level of immersion was incredible. As I played other games like Job Simulator, I would reach out to lean against objects in the game, like tables, walls and counters, only to grasp nothing and fall through the air. Other times, I would feel confused, expecting to feel the resistance of pulling a fridge door open or the weight of an object when there was none. I was impressed with how real everything seemed.  

Capable of Executing Really Cool Ideas

After my introduction with a world of zombies, I was ready to really explore VR and what it could do, so we loaded up Fantastic Contraptions, a game all about getting a small ball from Point A to Point B by engineering different machines. At first glance, it reminded me of Beseige, but more colorful and playful. I was able to create things that worked very easily and I was quickly having a lot of fun. These types of games don’t normally appeal to me because I find it hard to design what I want and the controls rarely felt user friendly. With VR and motion controls though, it felt accessible and easy to build elaborate machines.

fantastic contraptionIt quickly became apparent as I played that VR really opens up the possibilities for games we’ve always wanted. For example, most fantasy games that utilize sword fighting limit what you can do. You have a few buttons to attack, a dodge and a block button. But with VR, we can build a new level of complexity and excitement that gamers have always wanted. VR can finally make good on the promises we got when we first saw the Wii and its motion controls to feel like we’re a part of the action.

You’ll Get A Workout

After an hour of playing, I was pretty worn out and had worked up a slight sweat. Now, this isn’t a bad or good thing, it’s simply a matter of fact. Playing VR games with motion controls will work you out. Especially games that require a lot of movement, like the two previous games I played. It felt sort of like playing Wii Sports for several hours, but with my whole body. To people who are out of shape, like me, the first dozen times you play with VR, you’ll probably feel a little sore afterwards.

If VR really takes off, I can easily see the easy leap to games designed to make you work out, and I’m ok with it. With health centered video games currently, there isn’t a lot in the means of entertainment, but VR could change that. We could get games that make exercise really fun and even trick us to work out without us even realizing it. One company,
VIRZoom, has already created an exercise bike that works with VR headsets to create games designed to make you sweat and have fun.

This could also be just the tool to help people get in shape that might have trouble getting motivated or help with rehabilitation and physical therapy. When I came home and looked into the idea, I found that it’s already being used and with great results. I hope that the industry supports this idea and we’ll all be able to get in shape while having fun.

UIC VR infographicImage from University of Illinois at Chicago Health Informatics

Not for the Shy or Bashful

I decided to take a quick break and rest for a little bit, so my friend took the controls and started to play. He looked completely ridiculous. His arms flailed about, interacting with a world I couldn’t see except on his monitor across the room. He walked, crouched, dodged and moved through obstacles, but to me he looked silly.

I realized that, unless you’re ok with looking a bit weird while playing, VR could be a very awkward experience for shy people.

Now, most VR games are meant to be played alone, so that might not be a problem for the reclusive gamer, but if you live with others or have friends over who want to play, be prepared for a few laughs and giggles. Even just wearing the headset and sitting down looks a little silly.

Won’t Replace Traditional Gaming

VR is a welcomed addition to video gaming, but I wouldn’t say it is the future. As it grows in popularity, we won’t all be living in a sci-fi like state of everybody wearing headsets and moving their hands around. It isn’t ideal for every game style, in fact, it’s only truly immersive for first-person games.

Games with third-person perspectives, like real-time strategy, platformers and third-person action, don’t translate very well. I played a few of these and some felt disorientating or just not as immersive. But that’s ok, because we still have TVs and computers to play these on, so we don’t need to force them into the VR space.

Growing Pains

The technology is still very new and there were few negatives I encountered. The first, and biggest, pain I felt was with motion controls. While infinitely better than the Wii and other motion controllers, it was still finicky at times. Over time, I’m sure they’ll fix the little hiccups I encountered, but it was still a lot better than anything else I’ve used.

Another pain was how disorienting it can be, especially if you don’t take the headset off on a normal basis. The best I can compare it to is playing Marco Polo in a large pool. You spend so long hunting other players with your eyes closed and when you finally catch them and open them up, you are in a completely different spot than you expected. There were a few times I also felt a little nauseous as my eyes and ears told me I was moving around, but my body disagreed.

Overall though, the experience was incredibly fun, and I highly recommend at least trying out VR gaming. The immersive experience is something I’ll remember for a long time and I had a ton of fun playing with it. While it won’t fully replace gaming as we know it, I do think it is a concept that is here to stay.

The author of this fine article

is a at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 1970. Get in touch on Twitter @allen24ben.

  1. thetwitt

    12th August 2016

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    Great, virtual reality takes anyone to the another worls.

  2. Kyle James Frazer

    7th September 2016

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    It looks as if VR has finally found its footing, after a few false starts.

    I wonder if anyone with motion sickness has tried it? I couldn’t play Timesplitters or Half Life 2, and I can’t go in those VR machines at fair grounds without feeling ill. Should be interesting if VR manages to get over that hurdle.

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