VR is Overrated

Not really. Well… maybe. I mostly wanted to keep the title convention going.

I was discussing with a friend the other day about whether I think the Oculus Rift and VR in general is going to be the next big thing. Before I present my thoughts on the matter, let me preface with two items. First, I have not ever worn an Oculus Rift. I was an iPod and smartphone holdout through some extremely prime college years up until the moment I wasn’t, at which point I was slightly embarrassed for how needlessly I went without a piece of technology that otherwise made my life better. So, having not ever used this latest generation of VR headgear, it’s always possible that it will be wildly better (or worse) than I imagine. I did go to the Epcot Center back in the late 90s, which had some very primitive VR machines, and it went okay.

Second, Nintendo released this in 1995:

Nearly 19 years ago, folks. Nineteen years.

Nearly 19 years ago, folks. Nineteen years. [img source]

Yeah, sure, it wasn’t really VR as we know it; at most, it could probably be called a predecessor to the 3DS. Still, just file this away for now.

The answer I gave to my friend was: “Yes… eventually, in the remote future.”

I have a few issues with VR conceptually. First, what problem is it trying to solve? Maybe it doesn’t need to solve anything. Maybe it is simply another tool in increasing immersion. The issues I have with that are the non-monetary costs involved. I am talking about having to wear headgear that shuts out the outside world. For the moment, I will assume that it’s weight is negligible, that it will be comfortable for long play sessions even for those who wear glasses (such as myself), that there will be no issues with fogging up glasses, and so on. But… does the Oculus not preclude the use of keyboards? Perhaps the most obvious usage of VR would be in MMOs, but I’m not entirely convinced that going into 100% proximity voice or Vent/etc channels to interact is a step the community is willing to make. To say nothing about the more mundane concerns like, I dunno, reaching for your drink.

Second, what is it really adding to the gameplay experience? There have been a lot of FPS demos out there heralding the ability to glance side-to-side, or even full-scale treadmill-esque setups that would simulate you actually running around. That sort of thing makes for some comical Youtube videos, but in practice? I’m not convinced that limiting my PlanetSide 2 abilities to my physical endurance is a positive outside of exercise scenarios. And what real good is peripheral vision in an FPS when I would still be required to turn my character (with a controller!) in that direction to shoot the enemy?

One thing I was actually looking forward to was the ability to essentially never have to purchase a TV again. “Is a 40″ TV big enough for my apartment, or should I upgrade to 50″?” I’m already at the point where I believe that I would be better off with a projector, but what amounts to an infinite-screen TV is very tempting. At least it was, up until the moment I realized that VR is an extremely personal experience. If you have someone over, you both can’t share the same headset, so that “frugal” TV-replacement purchase suddenly balloons up with another Oculus purchase or Oculus + the TV you were going to buy anyway. Plus, you have the same issues as with the computer (e.g. find your drink) with an added bonus of precluding things like mid-movie make-outs… at least not without taking off the headgear.

Don’t get me wrong though, VR definitely has some potential. As the maker of Omni (the treadmill thing) mentioned, it can/will be used to train military units, it could help in physical therapy, I can see it being utilized for “traveling,” seeing museums, national parks, house shopping, etc, etc, etc. I’m not entirely sure what Facebook will be using it for, but maybe they think (VR) chatrooms will make a comeback. But for right now? I don’t know what I was use it for. I feel the exact same way about augmented reality tech like Google Glass as well – other than the fantastic advertising opportunities, what use would it have? Each time I’ve read a Zubon post about Ingress, I become further convinced that I am at risk of slipping into “old man” territory, railing against the incomprehensible “Nintendos” of the younger generation.

So… yeah. VR is probably the future, at some point. Not sure if it’ll ever be my future though.

Posted on May 26, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The Omni is exactly the sort of device I would expect to see coupled with the Oculus Rift. If we are ever going to have holodeck type VR, it will start with more personal devices such as these. And yes, if we start using these, we all will be much more fit; something I, who do not find current exercise options to be fun at all, look forward to. But you’re right, that video doesn’t look much different than the VR arcades I saw in tourist trap areas back in the 80s. And what is the expense of the Omni? Does the benefit outweigh the cost over just getting a Kinect, which right now, you apparently need anyway?


    • Damn, I completely forgot to mention the Kinect! That was actually going to be another pillar of the post, insofar as it’s a peripheral device no matter how much Microsoft wanted it to be some centerpiece to the gaming experience.


  2. I do not believe at all in the Omni, this is quite a big thing, that will not fit in the room of most people.

    But I think the Oculus – or its concurrent – is really the future. It will not replace the PC – or console – like PC has not replaced TV, and TV does not replace Radio, or Radio does not replace Newspaper, etc…

    But VR can create a far better immersion in our games.It could give us the felling of “I was there”. It will be more immersive that PC/TV/Radio/Newspaper ( I start to see a pattern ;-) ).

    And for Facebook, one big limitation is the capacity to put ourself in the Virtual room. It is easy to have the feeling that I am in a virtual room. But how to represent other ? Avatar could be a great thing on forum/Public place, but for private discussion, I want to see the other -like Skype- not an impersonal 3D representation.


    • Heh, well, there are quite a few journalists that would disagree that newspapers are not on their way out.

      It’s an interesting point though, about niches in the human experience that technology can slot into (or replace). Radio isn’t ever going anywhere because it’s something we can do while doing something else; even if self-driving cars allow me to watch TV on the way to work, there’s not much of anything that can replace listening to music while working. TV is replaceable depending on how you define it; I watch everything online these days, for example.

      We don’t have much of anything to replicate the “full immersion” niche, other than perhaps imagination and/or engaging entertainment generally (e.g. playing Skyrim or whatever). So… maybe.


  3. If it involves wearing a large headset that completely obscures the view of the real world and stops other people from seeing your face properly VR will never reach the mainstream. The combination of inconvenience, weirdness, vulnerability and discomfort will kill it stone dead.

    If it can be done using something like 3D glasses, though, then it could well take off and reach far beyond the obvious niches.

    What the heck Facebook think they are going to do with, though, is anyone’s guess.


    • I could almost imagine a setup that was VR headset the size of goggles (basically just over eyes) combined with a webcam to project your face/body to whatever chatroom. Then maybe a”dimmer” switch to let you type or find your drink.

      At some point though, the whole enterprise starts to get top-heavy with necessary gadgets. Plus, video phones never really took off, right? Although maybe Skype is slowly changing that…


%d bloggers like this: