The future’s here! Well, it’s been here for some time now. Since the early sixties, in fact. That’s if we count The Sensorama VR machine that ‘used all the senses’ to tell stories and, I reckon, maybe, just maybe, inspired Matt Groening to make Futurama… don’t quote me on that last bit, though.
All the senses? Seems like we’ve only gone backwards, then. Well, if you really miss the “artificial wind!” of the old days, pull up a desk fan whilst you blast mutants to bits in Resident Evil. Yeah, the 60s can shove their wind up their… where it came from? Because it’s even more the future now than before! Especially since the other day when Play station’s VR2 joined Meta’s Quest Pro on the cutting edge of consumer-ready VR.
But what does this mean for the landscape of everyone’s favourite industry? The high-functioning mainstream of entertainment that virtual reality technology has just taken another big, not-so-virtual stride into. Well, it’s actually kind of complicated. Responses to this ‘new era’ range from a loving embrace, reluctant acceptance to outright resistance:
The rise of VR has made Sony create a whole new platform, but resistance has still come from elsewhere: game developers themselves. Bar Sony itself, none of the games available for Play station’s VR are developed by top-tier companies. The two things stopping developers from investing is that the accessibility of VR is limited. Presumably, developing VR is expensive, so developers need to believe in its future to want to invest.
The tens of millions of us gamers must change our (probably life-long) gaming habits as well as afford the tech in order for the ‘future’ to be actualized. By new ‘habits’, I’m referring, of course, to the disturbing and ambitious act of getting off our asses. You know, standing up and using a real space to physically play rather than chilling on the bean bag, the couch, or the back of a taxidermy ostrich – wherever it is you play/hurl abuse at your lobby from.
Furthermore, as someone who cries when they rage quit, does all this mean my tears would cause a VR headset to electrocute me, and I could die, like, you know, irl? Industry apprehension isn’t unfounded, you see.
But, and this is a huge but, let’s not forget that Sony’s own input is phenomenal and maybe even enough to carry VR gaming through any uncertainty.
One facet of the entertainment industry that has wholly welcomed the tech is iGaming, that is to say, the pastime of gambling at online casinos and sportsbooks. You’re probably familiar with online gambling’s impressive re-establishment in Canada – If not, check out Vulkan Vegas for some of the best iGaming in Canada (here’s a Vulkan Vegas review from the experts).
A lot of in-person gambling is done sitting down, or at least isn’t played with reaction times, nor does it need high frame rates to replicate reality. So, it’s no surprise that the iGaming landscape is assimilating nicely. And ‘nicely’ is inclusive of affordability: Oculus (newer models now branded as ‘Quest’) is the most affordable brand and also the one with the most casino options. Their cheapest model is about three hundred bucks which, if you play your virtual cards right, could be won back on a jackpot in the same headset. The coolest part is that it solves the only downside to everyone gambling online – missing the social vibe of playing at a table with others or sharing the excitement of a big win.
It’s still early days, of course, but since online casinos are nothing like as expensive to develop as, say, the COD games, developers have wiggle room and are keen to get things off the ground.
This is where not only the landscape changes but the fundamentals of the experience itself. Movies are the only physically (and these days often mentally) passive product on the list. One only needs to watch – winning and losing is for the characters. But what about when the audience is in the shoes of a character?
Resistance here is not so much in the name of economic contingency but of the technology itself. And I don’t mean either hardware or software but that the mechanical problems of storytelling which filmmakers have spent years solving, are suddenly new for VR filmmakers. For example, cutting to the next scene in a film is scarcely noticeable if you are gripped by the story. But if you are standing in the story and you’re teleported to the next scene, the transition is then a bigger experience than the story itself.
That’s not at all to say there isn’t an exciting future in VR cinema. I think it has more of a future than 3D ever did because it is a totally immersive experience. I predict it will only ever be a separate experience – one that will develop alongside cinema without dominating it. It has the potential to be great, but a different thing rather than an improvement.
Virtual Reality is an extremely interesting technology that has plenty of unexpected implications. All the above considered, it isn’t going to be as smooth or (I predict) as dominant a rise as the VR developers would have us believe. Perhaps the best way to see it is more as a fun and totally different alternative or additional option rather than an imminent standard.
But who knows how the current problems may be tackled, maybe the metaverse will get millions of people more accustomed to VR. Maybe we’ll all forget to eat and reproduce, and when the aliens finally get here, they’ll find a bunch of skeletons wearing headsets. And then they’ll greet Zuckerberg, who they all look exactly like because he is one of them, and he’ll say ‘operation complete’ in whatever their language is, probably one that sounds like toads of various sizes popping in a strange rhythm, and they’ll clear away the skeletons and add another planet to their universe take-over, using nothing but a Zuckerberg and VR tech.
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