Thursday, March 20, 2014

Virtually Appealing - Realistically Concerning

In light of the news of Sony's unveiling of its new Virtual Reality device that will be used for gaming on the Playstation 4, I figured it would be a good idea to touch on a topic that relates to the PS4's VR attempt. Supporters of the Oculus Rift would also have to be included in this because they should know the history of the specific gaming form. Virtual Reality is definitely a tricky form of entertainment because there are more facets involved in implementing this feature the right way. Virtual Reality is a tactic that has been tried by companies in the Video Game Industry a number of times in the past, and in the present there have been more attempts of getting into the world of Virtual Reality and staying in it.

How will this new wave of Virtual Reality gaming have a true impact on the future of gaming itself? Well, a good and wise first step would be to know the history of Virtual Reality gaming before you dig into it. Virtual Reality was first introduced as a novelty figure way back in 1968 when Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull created the augmented reality head-mounted display system. It was an experiment in every sense of the word and it was used as just another way to experience general entertainment.

It didn't take long, though, for the world of video games to truly sink its teeth into Virtual Reality when some select arcades experimented with the concept. All attempts were very plain and basic and there was seriousness attached since Virtual Reality had no strong ties to video games as this time. Now let's move forward to the year 1995 and specifically in July when Nintendo made a bold move to flirt with the Virtual reality concept themselves. They released a table-top video game console called the Virtual Boy in hopes that it would catch on with gamers. Gunpei Yokoi, inventor of the Game & Watch and Game Boy handheld consoles, designed the Virtual Boy. It was a 32-bit system that relied on seemingly unique visuals to get by without actually having the oomph of gaming substance.

Yes, the Virtual Boy didn't meet the expectations that Nintendo had for a variety of reasons. The only color that a player would see when positioned in the head-mounted display would be red, in the form of LEDs. This was the kind of console that required the player to sit down at a table and play, and not to stand up and go as he or she pleased. It featured an eyeglass projector that would allow the player to view all sorts of red images. I'm sure that would make anybody's eyes happy, right? I'm obviously kidding because the strong majority of the gaming community didn't take to the Virtual Boy at all. The Virtual Boy was a commercial failure, being sold at ridiculously high prices, being falsely and poorly promoted in campaigns, and mostly because of the play that enabled discomfort to reign.

The Virtual Boy just wasn't a realistic enough option for people to buy into and it wasn't worth the risk of people getting involved and then getting sick in the process. Painful and frustrating physiological symptoms arose from playing the Virtual Boy. Dizziness, nausea and headaches were reported to be the norm when it came to physical hindrances. Something to this extent clearly isn't anything you would want to be shooting for when you are trying to sell a product that encourages people to engage with.

Fast forward to today and we are about to experience a new river flow of Virtual Reality experiments in the Video Game Industry. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Oculus Rift has been received generally well in its infancy, though the long term impact of it is yet to be felt. Sony recently revealed Project Morpheus, a Virtual Reality headset that will be used for some games, indicating that Sony wants to throw their hat in the ring and try to get Virtual Reality permanently over with the people. Shigeru Miyamoto recently mentioned in an IGN interview that Nintendo was going to give Virtual Reality another shot in the console market.

The Obsession With The "Never Stop Advancing Technology" Mindset

Now let me be frank. We are in the year 2014 and gaming technology has obviously progressed and advanced to a point where companies have dusted off the Virtual Reality concept and re-evaluated it. Technology in the video game world has made some impressive leaps, to be sure, but I can't help but wonder if sometimes video game companies are truly overly ambitious and overzealous. Let's consider asking ourselves a few questions about what we are dealing with in Virtual Reality.

Is there truly a need for Virtual Reality to make its lasting stamp in video games?

Why exactly do we need Virtual Reality to have a presence in video games?

What are we attempting to accomplish with the implementation of Virtual Reality gaming?

How much are we risking if we willingly glorify Virtual Reality, labeling it the "future of gaming"?

I know what the reader is thinking, and yes, I have a pessimistic attitude towards the Virtual Reality concept in gaming. All you need to do is read the four questions above and sincerely answer them. Do we need Virtual Reality to barge in and be that soothing and relaxing alternative in the way that we play video games? I don't doubt that some of you readers want or would like to have it as an alternative, but will the Video Game Industry go away if Virtual Reality gaming never gets off the ground? The answer is no, the industry won't go away, and we should all know that.

Also, what is the main goal behind this new Virtual Reality revolution that is appearing to gain ground? I do believe that there should be variety in the way that gamers play video games and I do believe in general creativity, but I must remind people that there are limitations as to how creative we can really be. Variety that is necessary is something that I advocate, but I wouldn't put Virtual Reality gaming in that boat. Virtual Reality is not necessary in order to be satisfied as a gamer. We didn't need it back in the 1980's, nor in the 1990's and 2000's, and if we look deep down inside this, we don't absolutely need it in the 2010's neither.

I have heard this term floated around concerning both motion controls and Virtual Reality gaming, and that would be "Now the player is the controller!" Is that really what we, as a gaming community, want for our distant future? Virtual Reality isn't the medicine to cure all the needs of every gamer out there and it still comes down to personal preference. If a gamer doesn't want to engage in Virtual Reality in order to enjoy a game, then he or she shouldn't be forced to. That is a concern of mine. I am concerned that one day the entire industry is just going to limit itself into one way of thinking for how players should play games, and if that ends up being Virtual Reality gaming, then I guarantee you that many gamers will end up walking away.

It is my personal preference to not be locked up in a Virtual Reality bubble and wander around as if I were sleepwalking, having my mind be stimulated by stunning visuals that take my brain away from what's really important. Real life. Virtual Reality isn't just a concept but it is also a mindset that people develop. Escaping your reality by going on a ride is one thing, but escaping your reality by sealing yourself away from the physical world that you know you are really in is another.

How many times have video game companies flirted with the idea of implementing Virtual Reality gaming by mentioning it in interviews? I suppose that Virtual Reality is the kind of gold that some of us seek so badly, and we either fail to find it, or if we do, we're not totally satisfied by what we have found. Even though it is well talked about in gaming circles, especially in the last few years, the fact remains that Virtual Reality gaming is a novelty. All novelties reach their ceiling of potential and then fade away into the black hole. The novelties wear off and then we come back to that and say "Well, what were we doing with that again?"

Just because technology has advanced through the years in gaming does not instantly validate Virtual Reality gaming. I believe it will take much more than to say "Gaming technology advances all the time, so let's go Virtual Reality!" We are gamers but we are humans as well. We are not science experiments. We are not members of The Borg from Star Trek. We are not people like Neo, Trinity and Morpheus from The Matrix. We are not opportunists like those kids from the Anime series Sword Art Online. Virtual Reality is a kind of pseudo-reality that we will never obtain nor sustain because it does have an end. The reality we have in front of us is our reality.

I didn't mean to sound dramatic, but here's the meat and potatoes of what I am saying. There was never anything wrong with just getting out a regular controller (not motion controllers like the Wii gadgets or the Xbox Kinect), sitting back and playing. That is simple, straightforward gaming that gets right to the point. It doesn't take you on a gimmicky bullet train ride that requires you to dress up or put a head-mounted display helmet on. Gaming was never meant to be restrictive and complicated. Some gamers who will observe Virtual Reality gaming will never be allowed to play those kinds of games because of health conditions. What will the PR people of Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift say to those gamers? There is nothing to say.

In closing, I know where I stand as a gamer on this subject. If you want to put on a helmet and overly relax your brain in Virtual Reality games, then that is your cup of tea and more power to you. For me, though, I will stick to more basic gaming because that is all I need to be satisfied.

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