“It’s the developers making choices that are making you sick. Tell them that you don’t want that.”
Oh, very good. I will just do the same when Sega cranks out another lousy Sonic game.
The above quotation is from Chet Faliszek of Valve, speaking about virtual reality headsets. According to this article from ArsTechnica, Mr. Faliszek vehemently denies that the hardware is responsible for the well-noted nausea inducement associated with recent efforts at VR headsets. No, the real culprit is the software design. It is worth noting that Valve is coming out ahead of the curve to displace the blame on someone else in anticipation of the release of the HTC Vive VR headset that Valve has a hand in creating. Preemptive strikes are the best; that’s why I always nuke someone else first in Civilization 5.
But, allow me to get cynical for a moment (as if I weren’t already): why do I want virtual reality in my video games? I mean, at the risk of asking a stupid question, isn’t video gaming already a form of virtual reality? Now I need to wear a headset that will flash the game just that much closer to my strained eyes, it seems. I am going to go ahead and blame Tron for this one, but honestly, I was always quite fine with playing my games through the filter of my PC or home console/TV setup. I don’t need my senses rattled any further by the ooh and aah of having something project images more directly into my optic nerves.
Okay, so let’s get serious. What is the case for virtual reality? One thing I hear the most is that it allows for a more immersive experience. Falling flat on my back when I went roller skating for the first time was a pretty immersive experience. This is a weak reason to argue for virtual reality. Feeling like you’re really there is in the same boat of gimmicks as 3D movies. It adds comparatively little if you have this thing called an imagination. You can fill in any of the little details of the world as you want in your own mind. Oh, but there I go, shaking my walking stick at the youths of today with their hula-hoops and stickball, right? No, answer me this first: do you appreciate the difference between last gen graphics and current gen graphics? Unless we’re talking about the Wii and the Wii U, chances are you don’t because graphical fidelity stops meaning something to your eyes beyond a certain fineness. The changes in graphics between the seventh and eighth generation of consoles are not as pronounced as they were between, say, the third and fourth generations (the NES and SNES, respectively). How do I know this isn’t the desperate grab of the video games industry to act like there is technological progress at a time when graphics are hitting a plateau?
I am all for technological process, but this is more like diversion than development. Mr. Falizsek’s comments suggest the Oculus Rift’s shortcomings have to do with the mixture of virtual reality images and conventional controller inputs, the combination of which causes the mental imbalance that elicits nausea. Great, problem identified, but what is the selling point? Enhancing the perception of being in a situation in which you are not was never a problem with video games before, was it? Have you ever thought, “This FPS is great, but if only I thought I was really getting shot at, it would be so much better”? It was cute when we waggled Wiimotes to play Twilight Princess but is this the natural evolution of interactivity? There are plenty of people who decried the motion sensing on the Wii as a cheap gimmick. I can’t see the substantive difference between that and virtual reality. The hardware is a tool; it’s the software we really want. At the end of the day, the Rift and the Vive headsets will be one more piece of discarded tech in a heap anyway, like the Virtua Boy. It will be forgotten when we move on to the next big thing. However fond we are of imagining ourselves on the Holodeck of the Enterprise, the fact is that we’re still strapping gigantic, expensive Viewmasters onto our faces.
I find it irrationally optimistic to believe, as the article suggests, that the market will stomp out the bad design flaws. Remember how long it took for Nintendo to bring out the Wii Motion Plus? Why is the Kinect still a punch line? We should not be in such a rush to jump on the bandwagon of an idea that still needs to have its flaws ironed out. The truth is that this generation of consoles is very mediocre at present and outside companies are eyeing a niche to carve out in the electronic entertainment industry by doing something that has not been successfully done yet. It is not yet virtual reality’s primetime. Instead, I shall say that I don’t want virtual reality. Rather, I shall demand Episode 3 from Valve. Holding out on the consumers for over ten years and then jumping into distracting areas of diversion? That makes me sick.