When first writing this article, I had planned for a bit of a more solid point/counterpoint discussion with my counterpart. I still find it how amazingly far apart we can be on so many different things when it comes to the topic of VR, such that rather than being on opposite sides of the fence, we’ve each taken a steamer and crossed opposite oceans to simply create an entire landmass between us. We must have each purchased one-way tickets, for it seems we’ll never return to that continent in the middle. Despite the distance we have on the issue, we enjoy sending postcards to one another with our thoughts on our new home. He’s shared his, and now it’s my turn.

Despite always being into games, my spectrum while growing up was always rather narrow. Not so much out of necessity as it was out of interest. I never bothered to compare the Genesis I had with the SNES my neighbor had. They were simply different, and that was that. There was no sense of brand loyalty for me, it just had the games I enjoyed the most. Despite my love of Sonic, Rocket Knight Adventures, and Streets of Rage, I never owned another Sega unit.

For me, it was always about the “wow” factor that spurred my requests for new toys to play with. Of course, in those days consoles could be rented along with games, so that made it a bit easier. While I dabbled in Nights into Dreams and Ocarina of Time, nothing made me say “I’ve got to have this system” until I saw the first commercial for Final Fantasy X. While certainly not the first game to have voice acting, 3D maps, and detailed character models, it was the first time I’d seen it all put together so well. I was all in well before it came out because I was excited of the potential not just in FFX, but in what other titles could do. And I was not disappointed.

Okay, so maybe the voice acting wasn't ALL great.

Okay, so maybe the voice acting wasn’t ALL great.

That “what if” mentality is something that has never left me, even once my purchases became dependent on making my own money. A large factor in this does, yes, have to do with the fact that I do not have a family to care for and having considerably more flexibility both in how I spend my money and my time, but I think that looking for potential is every bit as important as considering initial capabilities when it comes to new hardware. Let me state here that I am by no means a technophile. Rather than rush out and get the latest version of everything under the sun, I tend more towards skepticism and bargain hunting. On the other hand, I leap when I see the “what if” factor.

It’s an odd mix. I bought the first Android phone in Japan because I loved the possibilities, but I didn’t get a new one for the next 5 years (and even then, only out of necessity) because while Android itself was great I didn’t see the need for marginally better upgrades when what I had worked well. But at the same time, I managed to avoid plenty of gaming gimmicks that I saw leading nowhere – Kinect, Move, etc. These were silly things to me. For one, their potential was limited to games and nothing else. Then, the games that used them required too much effort and often failed to register motions correctly. No thanks.

Deservedly ridiculed - without immersion, why bother?

Deservedly ridiculed – without immersion, why bother?

Playstation VR, however, is not a gimmick. Let me rephrase – VR is not a gimmick. This is a genuinely new way to play games, without being completely restricted to the gaming space. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that way to the skeptical side. And who can blame them? The list of titles for any system, whether it be PSVR, the Rift, or the Vive, contains far more titles that fall under the category of “experiences” or small games rather than as fully-budgeted AAA games. That’s to be expected, as larger developers are keenly aware that this is new ground and don’t want their dollars to go to waste. It’s worth noting that there is far more support being put behind the VR systems than the minds behind Move and Kinect could have even dreamed of, and contrary to what some might think, it’s not simple to port already-existing games to a virtual reality system.

That last part deserves a special note. In the article against VR, games that can already be played on a TV are summarily dismissed, but I think that’s wildly unfair. Even for games that are able to be played on both the PS4 and VR, shifting to VR is a level of magnitude above current gaming experiences, especially when it comes to anything from a first-person perspective. Just like the second analog stick was a breakthrough for things like camera controls, adding the VR helmet means that your head becomes a third stick. The camera, now controlled by your vision, opens up more possibilities for other controls, instead of just Game X with a 360-camera.

VR would make screen clutter like this an absolute mess.

VR would make screen clutter like this an absolute mess.

Take Ace Combat 7, coming out for both PS4 and PSVR. In the PS4 version, the right stick will likely control the camera, the left your pitch and roll. Theoretically, controls in PSVR could allow the right-stick could then be assigned to yaw, instead of relying on the bumpers/triggers, which could then be used for other systems like weapons. There are plenty of other possibilities – independently control two arms on a mech(warrior), directional slashes with a sword instead of “R1 to attack”, etc. It also allows for new ways to deal with UI – a game can simply become a game when you’re in the middle of the action, allowing stat bars and maps and all the other things I always try to clear off my screen to be pushed to the side. I’m just spitballing here, of course, but I’m interested to see how developers will handle it.

Less clutter -> More immersive

Less clutter -> More immersive

Now let’s move on to experiences. These, too, are largely derided as filler for an otherwise barren field, but I think experiences are going to be the thing to really grab people. No matter how good the headset it, it’s very likely that VR play is targeted more for short games than sprawling epic tales. This means a new focus on a different way to tell stories – those that can have an impact without relying on 20-hour narratives or offer a different way of dealing with exploration. While some of the smaller games being developed right now are explorations into what the tech can do, plenty of them are already offering this new narrative, so it’s a bit naïve to simply dismiss them.

I’m more than willing to admit that I don’t think Playstation VR is going to light the world on fire, and that it is really just the tip of the sword when it comes to virtual reality, but the final thing I have hope for is that this spreads to functionality outside of the gaming spectrum. Yes, we see a bit of this with Sony’s announcement of the Theater mode, but there are far more applications that are more than possible. Advances in capturing 3D images mean that sporting events, concerts, and world travel could be done from the couch – this will never, of course, replace the experience of the real thing, but still allow people to get a taste of something outside of their usual box. And while I concede that it severely limits social interaction in the home, it offers a brand new way to communicate with others through shared experiences online, which Sony has already demonstrated through social applications for the system. In the end, I may still be gambling on a big “what if?” but if people simply stop trying to answer that question, what’s the point?

About The Author