Some people I know can be pretty negative about VR! And I can understand their reasoning. But - personally, I'm at least cautiously optimisitic. Here are my reasons why:
- I'm excited for a future of computing where you can do high-focus work standing up and moving around, rather than slumped in an office chair.
- Violence is disturbing again. It feels icky to shoot people when it's this real. Maybe we'll all get over it, but right now there's actual commercial pressures not to just make games about killing people.
- Everyone up and down the software-hardware stack suddenly gives a shit about latency. Latency is a painful thing, because it accumulates, so if anyone drops the ball it goes. And there's a step change in the quality of an experience when it gets to a low enough latency (which is why we pushed so hard for this in Beasts of Balance). Stuff just starts to feel real, and tangible, in a way it didn't before.
- The idea of strapping a box to my face and having interesting patterns of light shone into my eyes (and sounds pumped into my ears) sounds amazing. Just… yeah. Perfect.
- I was being genuine about that last point. Ilinx! A sensory overload. A post-rock gig.
- GDC is now Games and VR Developers Conference (at least for now). This might take a little zooming out to explain. I think of videogames as a continuous part of a larger space of… "interactive art", maybe. "Interactive entertainment". In previous eras, the division between games and other software wasn't so rigid, and there were some interesting, beautiful things that existed between them (I'm thinking of Kate Compton's work on tools for casual creators, among other things). Maybe VR will blur those boundaries again.
- When I was a kid, my most vivid dreams were of flying. VR seems like a good way to simulate that experience. Maybe?
- Creating 3D stuff in a 2D interface is weird and painful (no matter how used to it we've gotten). VR allows us to use a 2.5D interface, and intuitive look controls (ie, moving your head). Humans will always be a bit shonky at thinking in 3D, but this will help.
- Money. VR means there are tech companies scrabbling to build the platform that will own this particular future (this part is depressing, okay). But to do that, they're spending large sums of money on small teams with interesting ideas. This is great! I hope all my friends get paid well to make interesting things for a bit.
- Because this stuff will be interesting, because old design conventions don't work. We get to do new things! We get to rethink UIs from the ground up. We get to make games without much violence, where you can walk (but only in a small area). The idea of framing everything within a rectangle is gone. Wildly new constraints. We'll have to work quite hard not to make new things, given all that.
- Although it's maybe still unfashionable to say so, a thing I like is immersion. I like feeling like I am in another place, another situation. I don't know I care so much for the fictional place as for the disorienting sensation of transitioning, the flicker as the holodeck fades in (the sensation of suddenly being in a hallway in Battersea Arts Center when nipping out of a Coney production for a piss). VR is great at this. What do you do when you're there? idk. I imagine someone will figure that out.
- Small teams can, for a while, compete with bigger teams. Large games companies don't really know VR better than anyone else. And they're locked into business models that don't make sense for VR. I hope the small teams that become big this time round are nice people. I also hope pushes for diversity start to get locked in a little, and a few more of them are not white men.
- "What if we weren't too late with game culture, what if weirdos had a seat at the table from the beginning? What if we didn't let capitalism shit the bed so badly? What if artists and theorists were there, from its early days, to help guide popular understanding of it? " - Robert Yang
- What I guess I'm reaching for is the idea that maybe games aren't what VR is for. Maybe it's a new thing. I like new things. Let's try to make this new thing good.
02 December 2016