Here we are, in the year of Virtual Reality (VR). Supposedly.
We’ve been promised the wonders of VR for some time now, but many think 2016 is when it’ll finally take off. Its natural applications are film-making and gaming, and developers are positive VR will change the face of both industries. Even Disney has jumped on the bandwagon.
But let’s face it: 2016 won’t be the year of VR. It won’t become commonplace yet. And here’s why.
Lack of Big Franchise Names
It’d be amazing to be Mario, zooming down pipes, fighting Bowzer, and saving Princess Peach. Just imagine Mario Kart!
It’s not going to happen, though. Unless Nintendo announces its upcoming console, nicknamed the NX for now, is actually a VR headset — which is very unlikely — that’s not going to change for some considerable time.
There’s a distinct lack of big gaming franchises due out for VR headsets. Don’t get me wrong: many games look brilliant, but people like to see familiar names. It shows the industry’s confident enough to take a gamble on a new console or system. It means there’s a go-to game upon initial purchase. It’s a little bit of nostalgia in an unknown landscape. After all, people want the Wii U because it has Mario Maker and The Legend of Zelda.
But for VR, there’s no Call of Duty, no Grand Theft Auto, and no Lego. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Pokémon has unveiled an Augmented Reality (AR) app… but there’s no hope for them on VR right now. The biggest name thrown about so far is Minecraft, and that’s got a very select (though not inconsiderable) audience.
It’s not as if wanting a Mario platformer is unreasonable. Lucky’s Tale, an Oculus Rift exclusive, proves a platform-game is more than possible. These franchises will probably appear on VR headsets, but not in 2016.
Worry About Facebook
Oculus Rift was almost immediately the system everyone wanted. Certainly judging from the support on Kickstarter, it’s a popular device. Admittedly, it looks incredible.
For many, however, their excitement was soured in 2014 when Facebook bought the company for the equivalent of $2 billion. Some felt it was a sell-out. People don’t trust Facebook – not only about its sometimes-questionable privacy conditions but also because the headset was supposed to be about gaming, and Facebook is about social networking. Sure, gaming can be a social experience, but that’s very different from updating your status and uploading photos.
Mark Zuckerberg — you’ve probably heard of him before — says they won’t shift primary focus from gaming, and that’s been reaffirmed by Oculus’ CEO, Palmer Luckey.
Privacy, too, remains a talking point. Facebook knows far too much about its users already: add in the fact that Oculus Rift collects personal data (including address, online transactions, and usage patterns) and anyone who values their anonymity gets a serious headache.
This move also upset many of its initial 9,522 supporters, with backers arguing that they should get their collective $2,437,429 back. After all, Oculus Rift would still have plenty of cash left over!
You can say that’s nonsense; that Palmer and co. saw an opportunity to get greater support for their product and to make it affordable. Nonetheless, losing the support of early adopters is a bad move. These are the folk who were on Oculus Rift’s side straight away, and even though they’ve been given their rewards, this must have felt like a betrayal.
Negative Effects on the Brain
A lot has been said about motion sickness: some have ridiculed the notion that anyone using a VR headset will feel ill, while further still maintain that it’s a valid point. Right now, because they’re not owned by the mass public, it’s difficult to determine the ratio of how many actually feel sick in contrast to those who happily embrace the technology.
Simulation sickness (“sim-” and “cyber-sickness”) is likely caused by your brain registering conflicting feelings from different senses, so there’s a valley between what you’re seeing and what you’re smelling, feeling, or in some cases hearing.
Not everyone will feel sick. Not everyone will be skipping through virtual fields. It’s not a great leap, however, to imagine how tricking your mind will have other negative effects. That’s what VR is: tricking your brain into thinking you’re elsewhere. That’s bound to have a reaction, most notably increased adrenaline. It can be used to induce fear – which, in theory, could help people get over their phobias… or give them a heart attack.
Samsung’s Gear VR comes with a list of possible side-effects including loss of hand-eye co-ordination, balance, or multi-tasking ability, and further warns users:
“Take at least a 10 to 15 minute break every 30 minutes, even if you do not think you need it. Each person is different, so take more frequent and longer breaks if you feel discomfort. You should decide what works best.”
It also advises you not to use the headset while driving. Ahem.
Negative Effects on Your Eyes
If you dig into Gear VR’s disclaimer a bit more, you stumble upon a whole list of troubling symptoms:
“[S]eizures, loss of awareness, eye strain, eye or muscle twitching, involuntary movements, altered, blurred, or double vision or other visual abnormalities, dizziness, disorientation, impaired balance, impaired hand-eye coordination, excessive sweating, increased salivation, nausea, lightheadedness, discomfort or pain in the head or eyes, drowsiness, fatigue, or any symptoms similar to motion sickness.”
We’ve covered motion sickness, but few are considering how VR affects your eyes. Remember all those arguments about not sitting too close to the television? It’s due to very real worries about eyestrain, tiredness, and how signals are interpreted by your brain.
Our eyes’ accommodation-convergence reflex instinctively helps us focus on objects nearby and then objects far away (and vice versa), and some argue that VR causes an uncomfortable conflict around depth of field.
If we briefly consider one gaming giant: Sonic the Hedgehog. It works because we can process data at speed from a fair distance, but it would feel like a sensory overload for it to be first-person and up-close. Our eyes would certainly be subject to a barrage of over-the-top content. Potential developers would need to add some kind of in-game mechanism to slow down time, similar to the Oculus demo game, Bullet Train. And that might seem a tad disappointing.
A further concern is how immersed you’re actually going to be. It’s easy to become engrossed in a game, and this could leave a lasting impression. Lee Hutchinson played Elite: Dangerous on the Oculus Rift for an extended period of time, and discovered:
“[The] normally too-tiny-to-see pixel grid of the display is clearly visible, and staring at that grid for hours at a time is burning the pattern into my retinas… I can still faintly see this grid right now when I squeeze my eyes shut, in spite of the fact that I’ve had a solid night’s sleep. It’s superimposed over the usual retina noise I get when I close my eyes—or perhaps it’s better to say that it’s a very prominent part of the noise. It’s definitely less prominent than it was last night after a five-hour gaming session, but it’s still there.”
Are You Buying Into VR?
In addition to concerns about your eyes, a particularly active game could prove to be either a thorough workout or detrimental to your muscles. And then there are the security and privacy issues. And the expense!
Nonetheless, the three main headsets are tempting people whose money is burning a hole in their pockets. Early adopters have already showed their support. Niggles and faults aren’t the core reason the public will largely be put off. There’s a lot of concerns that need addressing and ironing out.
Virtual Reality gaming might be the future. But we’re really not ready for it in 2016.