Why I'm Still Sceptical About Virtual Reality
Earlier today I Star Trek: Bridge Crew as it’s currently on sale reduced by 50%. Now you may politely think to yourself “what has that got to do with the price of Brussel Sprouts”? Well, it is a game that has been primarily designed for use with a VR headset. However, the latest patch released yesterday, allows for the game to be played conventionally without a VR headset, using either a controller or keyboard and mouse. If we take a moment to pause and reflect on this change it is quite significant. A VR game just opted to broaden its appeal and accessibility. Does this not tell us something about the current uptake of VR gaming? Is it a case that it is not the industry “game changer” that some predicted? Surely not, I here you say.
I consider the subject of virtual reality in gaming to be very akin to that of 3D and 48FPS in cinema. All have a place in specific markets and can potentially enhance certain products. But none of these enhancements are universally required for all future content. For example, I have always thought that 3D works best in key genres and that it's essentially gimmicky nature enhances horror movies and other material of a sensational and exploitative nature. Friday the 13th 3D was the epitome of this. However, a movie such as Glengarry Glen Ross does not require such a cinematic conceit. It really comes down to common sense. And therefore, exactly the same argument is applicable to virtual reality.
Specific genres of games would be enhanced immensely from a fully immersive 3D environment presented via virtual reality. Consider the sort of gaming experience VR could bring to Skyrim, Shadows of War or any of the major MMO? Yet I'm sure we can also think of a wealth of games that do not require such an all-encompassing embellishment such as this? Simplicity and a stripped back GUI are part of the appeal of a game such as Stardew Valley. I don’t think a title such as this would see any sort of improvement through being accessible in VR. Not every product needs to be adapted for this medium. However, can we rely on the gaming industry to be so discerning? Trends are seldom bucked and more often than not are slavishly adhered to.
For me one of the most off-putting aspects about VR is the requirement for a bulky headset to be placed on the head effectively isolating you from your real-world environment. It is one of the reasons why I don't like watching 3D movies for too long. I saw The Last Jedi recently in 3D (out of necessity), and due to its length watching in that format was particularly challenging. Likewise, I suspect a long gaming session with a VR headset would be curtailed once I hit a state of sensory overload. Nausea and motion sickness are already known issues. I hope that adequate research is undertaken regarding any potential long-term health issues. It only a matter of time before there is scaremongering in the tabloids about the perils of VR.
In some respects, VR is yet another example of the gaming industry becoming too enamoured with the technical trappings of its business. The best games ultimately have something far simpler at their core. An engaging concept or mechanic. A strong narrative or easy accessibility. If a game has these qualities, then the front end does not always have to be adorned with bells and whistles. Yet I suspect that only a few companies will have the foresight to realise this or the courage to be sparing with the use of virtual reality. I have a suspicion when an economically viable form of VR is achieved that there may be as much disappointment with them medium as there is joy. As for 2017, so far it has not proven to be the break-out year for VR.