VR specialist Fabian Giesen resigned from Valve back in 2012, having contributed to their Virtual Reality programme and prototypes. His reasons for doing so have now been made clear: a genuine concern that unscrupulous companies will use the tech to monetise your every waking moment.
"The endpoint of VR seems to be fundamentally anti-social, completing the sad trajectory of entertainment moving further and further away from shared social experiences," wrote Fabian Giesen on his GitHub page [via Eurogamer], sharing one of the few concerns we have about the emergent technology. "As I have mentioned multiple times, I find the limited, formalised, abstracted and ultimately alienated social interactions in most forms of online gaming to be immensely off-putting."
"I'm not a fan of online gaming in general, and as such the inevitable framing of VR as the gateway to the ultimate MMORPG (which is what tends to happen) is a sore point for me. "I prefer my social interactions to be in person if possible, and so far what of it made it into online games is just incredibly basic... Certainly, it's easy to imagine an interactive environment with a richer set of interactions than voice chat and going on raids."
We reckon that a new wave of multiplayer games will eventually find ways to mitigate the relatively isolating experience, and that MMOs can become more immediate and immersive as a result. However, Giesen's major nightmare is that, sadly, human nature will find a way to ruin this for everyone.
"When I say that I think 'VR is bad news', I am talking specifically about the VR-enabled MMORPG-esque shared universes that cyberpunk has promised us, not about the much wider and more open-ended concept of 'things we might be able to do with working VR headsets once they exist'," he continued. "And lest I be accused of setting up a strawman here, the VR MMORPG universe really is what a lot of VR enthusiasts are hoping for, and simultaneously what a lot of really smart people working on VR have repeatedly (and publicly) declared to be their goal for VR."
"Having an immersive virtual environment - hey, MMORPGs even without VR get people to sink lots of time into them, and if anything that's probably gonna be more pronounced in the VR version - that is set up to, ultimately, generate ad revenue (and hence prioritise the needs of the advertisers over the desires of its users) is just an inherently gross concept to me," he added.
"So imagine a shared universe MMORPG, expressly operated by a company that *already knows all your friends*, that's trying to maximize your engagement ('hey, all your friends are playing right now, don't you want to join too?'), selling your attention to advertisers, and by the way, also building a detailed profile on everything you do so they can do all of this even better in the future. It's okay, go on doing whatever you want, we just want to watch! (Through your own eyeballs if possible.)"
Given the increasingly desperate and embarrassing ploys that major companies currently stoop to, and the enormous costs of developing MMORPGs on existing hardware, it's not hard to imagine this scenario coming to pass. But as Oculus Rift is currently in the hands of developers large and small, experimenting with the tech and creating applications even beyond gaming, we expect to see a few bad apples bobbing about in a much more open ecosystem. Just behave yourself, Facebook.
We recently got hands-on with Sony's Project Morpheus, which plans to bring VR to the living room as a PlayStation peripheral.