Note: I feel that the role of virtual reality is to bring a new level of immersion to games, so while it might not be the most accurate thing to do, when I reference virtual reality in this article I am talking about technologies that aim to achieve this.
The future is now! The Oculus Rift is looking better every day and Sony just revealed their new virtual reality headset named after Lawrence Fishburne. We’ll be living out our games in ways only sci-fi and fanfiction allowed before. The technology is finally being perfected and in just a couple of years, the gaming scene will be completely revolutionized!
I wish what I said in the last paragraph was true, but it’s just not. The truth is that the gaming industry gets a VR boner about once a decade and it just fizzles out into an expensive series of disappointments. Remember the 80s and 90s? If you do, then I sincerely apologize for making you remember them. Anyway, during this period video game technology had reached a point where developers were able to make great leaps at immersing players in their games. They actually made a lot of meaningful inventions. If you want to see what I’m talking about, walk into whatever movie theater lobby or funeral home that constitutes as your town’s arcade. Inside you’ll see light shooters using Kool-Aid-colored gun peripherals. Racing games where you sit in a recreation of a driver’s seat. We even had giant fighting robot cockpits, too.
And the VR game systems that were meant for home? Um… Virtual Boy? Now let’s fast forward to the Seventh Generation and the motion control craze. By this time, arcades had largely been reduced to the sorry state I mentioned earlier. Back when the Wii flew onto the scene, motion control was hailed as a huge revolution in gaming, but we all knew how that turned out. Most of the content was shovelware. And when you looked at the games that took the technology seriously, they often required the use of extra peripherals. And who wants that on top of buying a $60 game for a $300 console?
My point is that arcades provided much better virtual reality experience than the home console market has ever come out with. No matter how awesome the Oculus Rift or Morpheus are, there are still huge problems that keep the technology from reaching its potential. Virtual reality is more than visuals and audio. Sure, your eyes are going on an amazing adventure but everything from the neck down is sitting in front of a mouse and keyboard. To get a full experience you need a large space and dedicated peripherals. But seeing as how most people don’t have a dedicated room for gaming and no one wants to buy a new peice of plastic for every game, home experiences can’t support this. What can, however, is an arcade environment. I don’t know if arcades will make a comeback, but if they don’t then we can say goodbye to virtual reality until someone invents Nerve Gear.