For almost as long as I can remember, virtual reality has been perceived as the top of the mountain when it comes to interactive entertainment. The idea of being “in the game” has led to all sorts of interpretations in fiction, and it really seemed to gain traction throughout the 90s before fizzling out. But recently, there has been something of a resurgence of interest, and the likes of Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Valve’s Re Vive, and Sony’s Project Morpheus seem to be making some degree of headway towards making virtual reality an actual reality, so to speak.

As exciting as the prospect of being fully integrated into a game’s environment is, it’s honestly never really excited me all that much. I’ve been at a loss as to why, but somehow, it all clicked when watching this week’s episode of the GameTrailers show, “Huber Hype,” on the future of video games:

For those who can’t watch it for one reason or another, here’s the bit transcribed:

The year is 2038. I wake up… I go inside my game room, and there’s nothing but a table. I lay down on the table and I close my eyes, then I wake up in a distant and faraway land where giants are walking the earth, and I feel the thud with each step they take. Then all of a sudden, these cruisers come out of nowhere and blast them to bits! Rocks go flying by me, and this little giant girl comes up and say “Help! Help! Save me!”

I say “This way!” She follows me… we go down this cliff, and all of a sudden is this giant citadel. We go inside the village; there’s hundreds of people, everyone is talking to me. They feel alive, they feel real, and this girl… she’s actually a villain. She starts bashing these people that were once my friends, these strangers that took us into their land out of pity, and she starts murdering them one by one! And the look on those villagers’ faces, the betrayal in their eyes, pierce my soul and my heart… and I’ll never forget it.

I can’t lie: That does sound pretty awesome. I would indeed play a game like that, but…

But the fact is, for every game I play like that encompasses that sort of realism in its portrayal, I probably look at a dozen more which don’t fit that style at all. The Marios, the Kirbys, the Shovel Knights, the Sonic the Hedgehogs, to a somewhat lesser degree the Mega Man games. I think about those games that I love and hold so dearly and I think to myself “it would never work.”

Part of that comes from the fact that I often enjoy actually seeing the character I’m playing as in the game. I’ve seen people try their hand at creating things like a first-person Super Mario Bros. and the like, and as impressive as these efforts are, I feel like they’re missing a little something by not allowing you to see the character…

…to say nothing of the potential motion sickness issues. But I figure this is part of why I don’t tend to favor a lot of first-person games very much. Some, but again, that’s not a rabbit hole I go down very often.

Thinking on it further, what came to mind was “Okay, but what if there were some way you could see your character sometimes? Like a mirror?”

For something like a first-person Super Mario Bros., that would be one thing. But imagine an experience in which you are fully immersed into the environment — just like the “ideal” shown in movies and television shows. Imagine if you were in the Mushroom Kingdom and came across such a reflective surface, deciding to look into it. And looking back at you is Mario…

In a way, this goes back to my piece on why Mario and live action don’t tend to mix very well. How would something like essentially having your mind in Mario’s body really work? Would you even be able to function? Mario manages to get by because he is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon.

His proportions are completely different to a normal human being, and animators work around that, but would your mind be able to wrap itself around a body so entirely different from what you know is real? If his arm bends at the elbow at a completely different distance than what you’re used to, if your shortened legs brought you that much closer to the ground than you’re used to, if your peripheral vision is affected by the curvature of Mario’s own face… could you handle it? Could you truly, naturally manage to function in this game world?

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Or would they have to change Mario? Heck, would they even want to? I mean, remember how up in arms people got when SEGA gave Sonic taller proportions back in 2006? Would they have to remove Mario from the equation? If so, would there even be a point to a virtual reality Mario game?

Of course, the answers to such questions are no doubt years, if not decades away. Heck, it might even be that some of us for which it would be a concern might not even be alive by the time the technology allows for that degree of immersion.

Then there is the fact that, let’s face it, the tech is probably not going to be for everyone. Another aspect, motion control, has gone all but completely stagnant after the Wii hype fizzled out. There’s the issue of possible motion sickness to deal with, and of course there is how divergent the market has grown with regard to style, including retro trends.

I’d like to give virtual reality a shot, sure. But unless they find some other way to compensate for such issues, I think I’ll be okay sitting outside most of my interactive environments.

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  • http://nintendo3dscommunity.com/ CM30

    This is a very interesting point, especially when it comes to the strange and otherworldly designs of more cartoony characters and settings like those in the Mario series (and how they might not work in virtual reality).

    But on the other hand… I can sort of see why some people might actually want to experience those series in some VR form. I mean, getting to experience cartoon physics in a magical land as if you’re really there? And that world being say, Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom?

    That actually kind of interests me. Heck, I’d probably take it over any ‘realistic’ VR experience any day, because the worlds of the Mario or Zelda or Pokemon series are simply more interesting than your general high/heroic fantasy or magical realist style settings. I’ve always wanted to see what it’d be like to actually feel present in those worlds.

    Either way, I think your points are interesting, but I also feel a cartoony virtual reality experience could be really good as well, especially if Link or Mario aren’t actually the main character in it.

    • http://www.nyteworks.net/ LBD “Nytetrayn”

      I can see Zelda or Pokemon working in ways that Mario might not, though. Again, it kind of comes down to what we can actually handle, and Mario is like a walking roller coaster compared to the other two, as seen in the video above. ;)

      It comes down to a matter of degrees, I figure. A Twilight Princess-styled Link would probably be easier to “inhabit” than Wind Waker’s. Then again, i’m not a scientist, so I have no idea. But it is a reason for concern and experimentation, I believe.

      (Oh, how I’d love to visit Mario’s world… I simply question how well my mind could adapt to thinking I was actually moving around in his body.)

      • http://nintendo3dscommunity.com/ CM30

        One question though; do you have to actually play as Mario in a game set in the Mushroom World?

        To be honest, I think the answer is no. There’s no reason a VR spinoff couldn’t star a more ‘normal’ character or a player avatar instead, with Mario and co as important NPCs instead.

        They could also make a game based on Paper Mario/Mario & Luigi/WarioWare, which in physics are probably closer to real life than the Mario platformers (although I’m using ‘realistic’ very loosely here).

        As for art styles in Zelda… well, they could partly get around it by not ever showing your character. Would that make them easier to ‘inhabit’? Hard to tell, but the effect could work like those TV shows where a character ends up in fiction land and stands out against a more colourful and strange cast and setting.

        Maybe someone’s psychology would cope with that better than being told that they’re suddenly a cartoon character.

        On another note, do you actually have an email or anything? Because there’s something site related I want to talk about, but it’s not covered by the contact page here and Twitter doesn’t give you enough characters.

  • http://nintendo3dscommunity.com/ CM30

    On another note, if you need to see for yourself why a Mario platformer might not work well with Virtual Reality, I think this game might illustrate it:

    http://mfgg.net/index.php?act=resdb&param=02&c=2&id=28764

    It’s very, very disorientating. Perhaps a good example of how platforming in first person just comes across as awkward in general.

    • http://www.nyteworks.net/ LBD “Nytetrayn”

      I’m not sure the link came through as it should have. got a short link, or the name of the game? I just get a blank Mario Fan Game Galaxy page.