Virtual… Reality?

I still don’t own a VR headset, and while I enjoy the novelty behind them, here’s why I won’t be getting one any time soon.

Virtual Reality is still a thing of the future.  The technology behind VR has made some advancements but I think many developers, publishers, and gamers are missing the big picture.  Gameplay can be immersive and fun at the same time, but Virtual Reality gameplay requires sacrifice.  Whether it’s the expensive hardware, the extra amount of living space needed to comfortably move around while wearing them, or simply putting up with the discomfort in order to squeeze out a short, perhaps disorienting, gaming session.  Something’s got to be given up in order to gain any enjoyment out of VR Games.  Personally, I’m not willing to sacrifice the time and money necessary for the brief novelty, especially since I’m still entertained by games using the “old fashioned” methods, such as looking at a computer screen (monitor) or TV while using a controller or a mouse and keyboard.

I hate to be a stick in the mud, but I find that the current state of VR in this generation isn’t the giant leap that people were expecting, particularly when comparing today’s hardware with the hardware found in the early 90’s.  Games made today in VR, and the gameplay mechanics that they are comprised of, are still a wonky affair when compared to the way Virtual Reality headsets were used and shown off at tech and electronic expos back in 1991.  Sure, the graphics might be more up-to-date but the gameplay and how you play your games in VR still seem to be an antiquated thing from the past.  I’d go so far as to say that today’s VR gaming is really nothing more than an expensive gimmick tacked on to games that are made overly complicated by the current limitations of their hardware and mechanics.

Below are a few photos I found on Google showing off Virtual Reality hardware from the past (early 1990s) and from the present (2015 / 2016 / 2017).  Just look at the technological advancements we’ve made!   (Yes that was sarcasm.)

This headset is sooooo comfortable. Oh look a polygon, and I can almost touch it!

Whoa dude! I look like a total dork, but I feel so gnarly!

Yeah, this looks practical. There will be one of these in every home by the year 2000!

So I plug connector A into thing B, then hook up the one wire to the other wire, tear down that supporting wall I have no use for, pick up the pink-eye medication from the pharmacy, and I should be good to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the idea of becoming more immersed in a video game.  However, the fact still remains that gaming in “Virtual Reality” is an uncomfortable experience and seems to lose its luster and the initial “Wow!” factor rather quickly when considering the bulky and obtrusive nature of VR headsets and the peripheral equipment requirements.  Gaming in VR has a long way to go before I’ll be convinced that the experience is as immersive and compelling as the PR and marketing teams want you to believe.  I do think there are a lot of practical applications that Virtual Reality can be used for such as flight training, training in heavy machinery and equipment use, medical procedure training, test driving, and even simple things such as exploring your dream home before it has even been built.

Unfortunately, gaming is still in its infancy when it comes to VR game development.  No matter how good the graphics and sound have gotten over the years, the different pieces of hardware used to play VR Games are a relic from the past.  To be honest, the gimmick of today’s Virtual Reality gaming reminds me quite a bit of Nintendo’s past experiments in gaming hardware.  The most memorable and interesting peripheral that comes to mind was Nintendo’s Power Glove, which was a great idea on paper, but absolutely failed to be conducive in creating a compelling or enjoyable gaming experience.  Basically it was a steaming hot turd of an accessory.

Just watch how well Tom Cruise plays Nintendo games with the newly released, never-before-seen, NES Power Glove!

Yep, Tom Cruise knows how to play!  (Let’s see how many people re-watch that video now)

You may or may not remember the Power Glove but it was probably the best of Nintendo’s greatest failed gimmicks.  At least, as far as accessories were concerned it was.  What it was supposed to do was awesome.  What it actually did was laughable.  Nintendo did make improvements and advancements over the years though and I think their initial dream for the Power Glove was finally realized when they released the Nintendo Wii (Not to be confused with the Wii U).  The Wii and the Wii remote weren’t perfect, but anyone who has played Wii Sports could definitely see the potential behind the product as a compelling piece of hardware particularly because it had working motion controls.  The majority of Nintendo’s software line-up for the Wii doesn’t quite meet that same standard though, but it’s obvious from the fanfare that Nintendo did indeed create something that was compelling enough to attract people who weren’t even particularly interested in video games at the time.  The Wii was a very popular piece of hardware, for a little while.  And then, what happened to the Nintendo Wii?  Well, it died.  Very few games actually worked well with motion controls, and people soon went back to conventional gaming.

Both Microsoft and Sony took a stab at Motion-based controls as well, attempting to ride the wave of novelty that Nintendo had captured.  The party was short lived however, as both the Xbox 360’s Kinect and Sony’s Playstation Move had died rather quickly with extremely weak game line-ups that were supposed to help sell the aforementioned accessories.  It just wasn’t meant to be.  The controls, while a novel idea, weren’t as intuitive or as user friendly as gamers were accustomed to.  Fast-forward to today, Sony has released their own VR headset, and Microsoft most certainly plans on doing the same in the not-so-distant future, yet it still appears as though gamers are getting nothing more than a gimmicky piece of hyped up hardware that can only deliver brief intervals of short-term fun and truly mediocre gameplay experiences.

The video below demonstrates (or does it?) some of the delightful gaming entries made for VR while using the relatively new (at the time) HTC-Vive, previewed by the chaps over at Giant Bomb.

2015 / 2016 were great years for VR Gaming…  No really.

That’s basically how I see the current state of VR.  Until the hardware is more affordable, more comfortable, more compact, more practical, and more intuitive to use, I can’t see myself being swayed by the newfangled technological allure.  On top of having good hardware, there must also be good software, and judging by what I’ve seen thus far, there are very few games out there that actually look like they might warrant or benefit from being played by using one of the Virtual Reality headsets and accessories.  There are a few exceptions, but even the games that I find might be interesting to try out in VR, would probably be more fun to play while using a TV or monitor and a mouse and keyboard or controller in the long run.  The vast majority of games released for VR (across all platforms) seem to be nothing more than shovelware, with the occasionally impressive tech demo released once every blue moon.

I remember how impressive Virtual Reality looked and sounded when it was made popular by the media back in the early 90’s.  I was a younger gamer then, and I was certainly excited to see the direction that gaming was going.  However, 25+ years later, the equipment and how that equipment is supposed to be used basically look and work the same.  The games do have better graphics and sound, but so what, games in general have better graphics and sound these days.  VR gaming and the mechanics involved in playing VR Games really haven’t changed or improved much, if at all.

In my humble opinion, the years really haven’t been kind to VR Gaming at all.  It’s still the clunky, inconvenient, burdensome, and embarrassing way to play a game, just like it was back in the 90’s.  The only difference between then and now is, I’m not the young, dumb, impressionable kid that I once was.

I’m pretty sure VR is not here to stay…  not yet at least.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to be proven wrong though.

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