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OPINION | VR Has No Place In The Living Room

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, Virtual Reality, VR

OPINION | VR Has No Place In The Living Room

Virtual Reality is already one of the hottest technologies and topics in videogames, with both the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus promising to revolutionise the way we experience our favourite hobby. The ability to enter our videogames, to be immersed and surrounded by them, is intoxicating - and we've been excited about VR's potential despite a fair few hurdles facing the fledgling venture.

Now that I've finally got to grips with Oculus Rift courtesy of Private Eye (the psychological thriller, not Ian Hislop's mag), both my greatest hopes and most worrying concerns about the resurgent technology have been set in stone.

VR is absolutely incredible, a huge leap forward for videogames and revolutionary new forms of interactive entertainment... but the very things that make it so amazing are likely to keep virtual reality out of the living room.

Project Morpheus may have a bit of a fight on its hands.

OPINION | VR Has No Place In The Living Room

We're going to gloss over the boring common-sense arguments surrounding cost and convenience. Yes, buying a headset for your entire household is going to be rather pricey. Considering the laughable uptake of 3DTV over the last few years, it's clear that most of us like to consume our entertainment without wearing silly glasses, let alone strapping a sweaty plastic peripheral to our faces - thus making it a niche product for hobbyists on paper. These tedious issues can eventually be overcome as attitudes change and costs come down, but there's a far more fundamental problem facing Virtual Reality when it comes to cracking the lounge.

VR is incredibly immersive. Oculus Rift puts us directly into videogames, shattering the barriers between players and the game world, but does so by literally creating a new reality specifically for the wearer. It recreates environments, characters and sound in an unprecedented and intimate way, but to work, it has to totally and completely shut out the real world. As such, Oculus Rift is a perfect fit for a study, games room or bedroom, where players can isolate themselves in a world of their own.

OPINION | VR Has No Place In The Living Room

It's fabulous, but also uniquely antisocial. To maintain immersion and illusion, players not only have to be totally cut off from reality in terms of what they can see, but also in terms of what they can hear. A decent pair of headphones or surround sound is required to ground us in virtual reality - with any talking or background noise completely ruining the experience. At best, your friends or family chatting pulls you out of the world that the developers have strived so hard to create, and at worst it can exacerbate the effects of simulation sickness. If you're supposed to be travelling at speed, yet you can hear people talking a fixed distance away from you, your brain is likely to start doing horrible things to your stomach in an effort to make sense of the conflicting signals.

In a bedroom or study? No problem. But in the lounge, the focal point of family life and the room with the most footfall in the house, it's likely to be a dealbreaker.

OPINION | VR Has No Place In The Living Room

There's a more fundamental point, too, in that people around you will have trouble interacting with the game you're playing unless they have a headset themselves. Or, more importantly, you can't easily share it with others. Again, VR's main strengths also make it incredibly antisocial, a bespoke new reality that's shattered if you're reminded about the boring mundane one in which we actually live by the people in it. I absolutely agree that there's potential for asymmetric multiplayer, wherein several players interact with a VR-equipped friend using Morpheus' TV-out functionality, but having to pass around a headset isn't going to be much fun - even the Wii U hasn't made it work to any great degree beyond Nintendo Land. Let's face it, everyone's going to want to be the lucky one wearing the visor.

Perfect for a large comfortable chair upstairs, but not for the lounge.

That's not to say that VR can't be social. Hell, Facebook wouldn't have flashed the cash if it there wasn't a wealth of potential applications. People on other sides of the planet can directly interact with each other in a single virtual space, whether a casual lounge or hectic shooter. It's tremendously exciting -- I'm all for it, frankly -- but yet again these online social features shut you out from the real people physically sat next to you on the sofa, or in the room. We'd likely continue to use our smartphones and tablets for social networking most of the time, free to chat to our mates and folks in front of the telly, before then retiring upstairs to hang out with an old friend on a different continent, or get involved in some VR multiplayer.

Personally, I believe that Virtual Reality is going to revolutionise the way we play any number of genres (from flight sims to strategy games, survival horror and shooters - though traditional FPS games probably won't work without significant control retooling and major gameplay rethinks, an article for another time), and become a thriving PC scene. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that traditional PC monitors could be replaced by headsets in the not too distant future, especially if operating systems embrace the tech. Just imagine being surrounded by all those Metro tiles. Even in the absolute worst case scenario, if VR never quite breaks the mainstream this time -- there'll always be a next time -- I guarantee that it's going to remain a relevant and well-supported niche.

I'm so ready... yet for the forseeable future, I just can't see it in my lounge. Or indeed anyone's. And I worry about what will happen if both Oculus and Sony try to aggressively push their wonderful devices into a room that, perhaps, they don't really belong.

But I'd dearly love to be proven wrong. Never underestimate the imagination and resourcefulness of developers in uncharted territory - so hopefully I'll be eating all these words soon enough.

Add a comment10 comments
Late  Apr. 16, 2014 at 14:19

I can't see myself buying into the tech until VR moves from bulky headsets to contact lenses. But I don't think that's too far into the future.
When it does we're definitely talking about being in the front room, though - as well as everywhere else we wander.

Google have already made contact lenses with cameras in them, as well as contact lenses that monitor blood glucose levels (through tear fluid); and several companies have developed contact lenses with displays in them (too big to be of practical use so far, but that's just a matter of time).

We're into Sci-Fi territory (but speculation about near-future tech is always Sci-Fi) of course, but it'll be the death knell for TVs and many other techs. I look forward to having my real life HUD, with my tv/film/internet/game in a small floating window, full screen, partly opaque, whatever; as well as AR stuff so when you look at someone you might have their name, profile, and recent email/sms or other details floating next to them; when you're driving your satnav is highlighting what route to take, and so on. Similar to the hud you get in games, but available in real life.

All that said, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to see VR headsets become commonplace in the living room, so long as there's something to actually see on them (ie social media etc. rather than just games). At present everyone's sat there with mobile phones and tablets. It's not much of a stretch to have them wearing some sort of goggles instead.
They'd need to look a bit more Morpheus than dev-kit Oculus Rift, mind.

(Sorry if that post's a bit disjointed. I poached half of it from comments I recently made elsewhere!)

OkinSama  Apr. 16, 2014 at 17:27

It really isn't as black and white as the writer seems to think. It depends on the type of VR, and how it's setup. As well as the people you're around.

If what the player is seeing in VR is also shown on a TV screen for others to see, then that might work.

FernandoT  Apr. 16, 2014 at 17:50

You make sense on every point.

On the other hand, in a LOT of places in the world (specially big cities and the developing world) the living room is the ONLY room ;)

X10  Apr. 16, 2014 at 18:10

@Late - I really hope that doesn't happen.

Late  Apr. 16, 2014 at 18:46

I would argue that it'll be bloody handy on those occasions when you're in the pub and someone you don't recognise starts taking to you, and it's clear you should know them... but I fear pubs and rl interaction could well die out because everyone's sat at home drinking whilst meeting friends in a virtual pub instead.
Scary yet plausible.

Pringlefan178  Apr. 17, 2014 at 00:40

I can't see myself buying into the tech until VR moves from bulky headsets to contact lenses. But I don't think that's too far into the future.
When it does we're definitely talking about being in the front room, though - as well as everywhere else we wander.

Google have already made contact lenses with cameras in them, as well as contact lenses that monitor blood glucose levels (through tear fluid); and several companies have developed contact lenses with displays in them (too big to be of practical use so far, but that's just a matter of time)



Everything you are saying is **** stupid and wrong. Shut the **** up and do some research, i'm so tired of people on every single gaming news site saying the lamest **** that makes no sense concerning vr. From bulky headsets to contact lenses... You don't think that's too far into the future? Are you mentally challenged? Jesus christ. Clearly, you have no idea what is going on.

JonLester  Apr. 17, 2014 at 10:56

Some good points (and one embarrassing and needless angstsplosion) here.

@Late: I agree that wearable computing and Augmented Reality has a bunch of potential (especially in terms of being the 'next big thing') - and ultimately if they can converge it with VR then the convenience aspect will be sorted. Google did a flash sale for the Google Glasses yesterday - only $900...

@Okin Sama: Good point. I tried not to write in absolutes too much here beyond the title - and did acknowledge Morpheus TV output and the opportunities it brings, but simply can't find many examples of developers using asymmetrical hardware multiplayer to any great success beyond Battlefield's Commander Mode on iPad.

Hang on, though, Commander mode would be amazing in VR.

As I said, I hope I'm wrong. Devs will be doing some very clever things over the coming years, but right now, I just can't see the appeal.

@FernandoT: Thanks - and heh, you make a good point there! I kinda come across like a millionaire with a huge mansion - talking about studies etc, I wish - natch we'll put it in the room with our hardware. But my point is that we'll connect it to our PC in the corner, not the TV in the middle.

@Pringefan178: Relax, dude.

Last edited by JonLester, Apr. 17, 2014 at 10:57
Late  Apr. 17, 2014 at 11:14

Everything you are saying is **** stupid and wrong. Shut the **** up and do some research, i'm so tired of people on every single gaming news site saying the lamest **** that makes no sense concerning vr. From bulky headsets to contact lenses... You don't think that's too far into the future? Are you mentally challenged? Jesus christ. Clearly, you have no idea what is going on.


I like this one. Can we keep him? Pleeeease? :D

I'm certain we'll have AR lenses or implants within your lifetime, Pringlefan178. I'm assuming a "normal" lifespan and that you're in your early teens, but that's two big assumptions and I could well be wrong on either/both. All I've got to go on is your above post.

Ilium  Apr. 17, 2014 at 14:23

You make sense on every point.

On the other hand, in a LOT of places in the world (specially big cities and the developing world) the living room is the ONLY room ;)


+1

Of course VR won't work for local multiplayer, unless we see games made specifically for that platform. But Morpheus has a great chance at being successful thanks to the PlayStation connection. If Sony can make an attractive bundle at a good price point, I'm so very in :)

X10  Apr. 17, 2014 at 16:44

@Late and @Jon - The problem with all this technology is that the human psyche is a far way from catching up with how to use it effectively and without disruption to our lives in such a way that isn't detrimental in the global scope of things.
Augmented reality is probably one of those short roads to hell, beaten there only by technological implants.

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