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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.