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?
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.