Tom Martin explores the long-awaited Orwellian inspired We Happy Few, releasing on Xbox and PC this summerWritten by Tom Martin on 16th March 2018
This Generation of VR is Doomed To Fail
Despite recent technological improvements and marketing hype, virtual reality gaming is not yet living up to expectations. Writer James Honke explores five major issues that are preventing VR gaming from being truly successful.
Virtual Reality has so much goddamn potential. The idea of visiting any world and seeing it in front of your very eyes is scarily exciting, and having experienced it first hand, it really lives up to the hype. Skyrim was beautiful when truly immersed, and it gave enemies a sense of weight and fear that they simply don’t have when placed behind the safety of a TV screen. With that said, VR isn’t ready to go yet; there are some major issues which – despite all the awesome potential of the systems – pretty much doom this generation to fail.
1) Movement in VR is almost painful
When Sony designed their VR system, they must have been so overcome with giddy excitement at the idea of reselling their stocks of shitty Move controllers that they lost all common sense. Without the depth and movement perception offered by the comparably more expensive (and less popular) Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and with both hands full of cheap plasticky Move goodness, there’s no actual explanation of how the player is supposed to move from one place to another in-game. In Skyrim's case, we get to jump from place to place like a teleporting street cleaner, using one hand to move and one to shoot fire like a magic leaf blower (or now you can choose to scoot about on virtual roller skates – woop!). This is not the immersive experience we were promised. Other options include on-rails shooting in Until Dawn, ugly and finicky point-to-point running in Bravo Team or simply sitting still in EVE: Valkyrie and GT Sport. This is before we get to actually picking anything up; nothing says immersion quite like pointing a big plastic stick at the virtual ground to loot the last possessions of that raider you just shuffled from their mortal coil.
In all likelihood, this problem isn’t going to be fixed any time soon. Without a decent movement solution for feet (whether it be an omni-directional treadmill or some other), it’s almost impossible to use motion controllers to play anything of substance (rather than a VR ‘experience’ – more on them later). Without the money to blow on an Omni or some Manus gloves, gamers are forced to use regular controllers, begging the question of what the VR is for; after all, it’s definitely more immersive to play Skyrim when you can swing the sword and hit the dragon, but is it as good when we’re back to button-mashing and analog sticks?
2) Movement is privilege anyway
Talking of movement, what about people with disabilities? Jim Sterling called VR ‘Privilege Goggles’ and it’s hard to disagree with his analysis, since if VR becomes the future of gaming – motion controller warts and all – we’ll be disenfranchising an entire generation of gamers who enjoy games as their most accessible medium. Whilst virtual reality offers the potential for amazing opportunities for disabled people, the tech simply isn’t there yet. The focus on gimmicky movement-based experiences threatens to ignore and exclude those who can’t stand up and thrash about; far from bringing more players in, we’ll be quite literally turning players off as they can no longer be ‘immersed’ in their favourite games.
3) You have to turn it off every half an hour to be sick
Talking of turning off gamers, what about turning off games? The current gen of VR is too sickness- inducing to succeed, with 25-40% of people being affected by motion sickness and it disproportionately affecting women. Media journalists have claimed that this is less of a problem on the PSVR but that hardly seems like a justification; after all, you know what I can do without suffering any sickness at all? Regular gaming. Why should I pay £250+ for the option of having a headache, or even being physically sick, when I can boot up my PS4 and play for hours sickness-free? Couple this with patronising ‘tips’ from industry insiders and I want to vomit before I even put the bloody goggles on. If I can get the damned things to focus enough that I can actually see, I’ll need to get someone to tell me I’ll be OK or go and smoke a joint to make sure I’m not sick? I think I’ll get back to my Fifa, thanks.
4) You look like a muppet
OK, this is hardly the top concern. But it’s true – there is officially no way to play anything in VR without looking like a space alien who doesn’t know how gravity works, flailing arms and all. I actually prefer my previous slovenly troll look.
5) There’s no real good games to justify the price tag
If there's a second gen of VR (which I sincerely hope there is), hopefully the developers will get to grips with the technology so that we can have some truly immersive experiences. Right now, however, the limitations of movement and the lack of imagination leaves us with the same situation that was faced by the Wii for most of its lifespan – most of the games use the tech as a gimmick rather than actually being enhanced by it. There are few VR games that would stand up on their own two feet beyond the short-term novelty of a VR system, and those that do often make you question why VR is even necessary. Instead, we’ve been treated to plenty of very expensive and very short VR ‘experiences’ which are fun but hardly worth the money. £16 for an hour as Batman? Nah, I’m alright. £16 for an hour and a half on a ghost train? I’m OK. Once again I can buy a port of Skyrim, but what will I have missed out on from the first three times that I won’t get this time? Dodgy movement and dubious collision physics? There’s nothing that is really worth blowing minimum of £250 on the tech and on the games.
I want VR to work. I want it to work so so badly. In my head, I have dreams of a Ready Player One-esque escape into a virtual world so real that I forget where I am. I know we’re not there yet, but it’s hard to reconcile the dream that the trailers sell with the reality of the stationary, sickness-inducing mess that we have now. VR is so damned close and yet so far away. This generation might be doomed, but let’s all hope that the next generation can make our VR dreams come true.