The first time virtual reality became a thing back in the early 90s, I was as big a fan of the technology as you could have found. Though I was just a kid, I anxiously sought out any VR appearances in pop culture (even crappy ones, like “The Lawnmower Man”) and even wanted to study programming and computer science when I first went to college just so I could so something in that field someday.
With that in mind, you’d think I’d be one of the most excited people around when it comes to the progress of the Oculus Rift. The technology is said to be improving rapidly, with the headset shown at CES 2014 leaps and bounds ahead of the one that was at E3 last summer. Most importantly, the Oculus VR team seems to have overcome the headset’s problems with persistence and motion tracking that can cause motion or sim sickness—especially important to me, since I get queasy even watching someone else play FPS games for more than about 10 minutes.
If you could go back and deliver the Crystal Cove prototype to the teenaged version of me, he’d think it was a dream come true. But as an adult, I find myself strangely unprepared for how the Oculus Rift and its sure-to-be-in-the-works competitors might shake up the video games industry, something everyone from Gabe Newell to Chris Roberts assures us is likely to happen.
For starters, I’m conerned about what happens to the balance of power between PC and console gaming if the Oculus Rift is a runaway success. I’ve got no dog in the fight since I enjoy good games on any platform, and I don’t own a PS4 or Xbox One yet. The fact remains though, that those machines are only a few months old, and already there is technology on the horizon (since the Rift could make it to retail by the end of this year or early 2015) that threatens to make them yesterday’s news.
Would Sony and Microsoft feel the need to develop their own VR peripherals if PC games played on the Oculus Rift are stealing their thunder? Considering how the gaming industry is often a follow the leader business, it’s not hard to imagine. I’m a firm believer that having as many different viable platforms and gaming experiences as possible is best for everyone, so I’d hate to see anything that changes or wrecks the diversity we have now.
On a related note, even if virtual reality ends up being absolutely mind-blowing this time around, I wouldn’t want all games to feel like they need to incorporate it. Some genres just wouldn’t translate as well as others, but let’s face it: we’ve seen plenty of video games try to force the square peg into the round hole before. And just like I appreciate the fact that we still have the choice to see movies in 2D even if they’re released in 3D, I’d like to have that option for video games as well (and to be fair, for the first wave of games that feature Oculus Rift support, playing in VR is optional).
More than anything, I fear the VR version of shovelware, with companies rushing to try to take advantage of the technology using half-baked integration plans and insufficient quality standards. This is something I would have considered a sin in my younger days, when virtual reality was laughable compared to what it can be over the next few years. We all know it’s a real threat if the Oculus Rift takes off, even though efforts to have objective standards for games that are “VR ready” are already underway.
There’s also a personal element to my feelings that reflects where I’m at in my life now versus 20 years ago. Back then, the idea of immersing myself so completely in a video game world that it would simply detach me from reality for several hours at a time was a dream, and a pleasant one at that. Things are different now, and while the stresses of adult life might seem like escaping from real ife would be even more appealing, the truth is different.
I’ve got a day job that I can’t afford to blow off, as well as two small children who often need me to be able to pull away from whatever game I’m playing at a moment’s notice. There’s a practical limit to how much immersion I can really afford. I need games that only ask so much of me.
None of this should be misconstrued as any desire on my part to see the Oculus Rift fail. On the contrary, I hope it does shake things up in a way that the steady advancement of regular console, PC and mobile games might not be able to accomplish. Given the big names backing it and the great things being said about it, I’d be shocked if it isn’t a hit.
I’m just not sure I’m prepared for it to be here as soon as it sounds like it might be. I’m going to need some time to get in touch with my younger self and borrow some of his passion and awe first.