Virtual Reality: The Future of Gaming or a Gimmick?

Orlovsky and Oculus Rift
Orlovsky and Oculus Rift (Photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin)

Back when I was a kid, I always thought virtual reality was the coolest thing. However, back then, there were few devices that actually made it to market. One was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, which sold so poorly that it was discontinued less than a year after being released. After trying one out, my dreams of virtual reality were crushed. Today, however, there are several devices in the developmental stage that have brought my dream back to life.

The Oculus Rift is the most prolific device, bringing in almost $2.5 million during its Kickstarter campaign last year. This device has become a phenomenon and there isn’t even a consumer version available yet. Games like Team Fortress 2 have been optimized to work with VR goggles such as the Rift. While I haven’t had the opportunity to try this device, it looks like the closest thing to what I imagined virtual reality was as a kid.

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There are other devices, as well, though none are as far along in the development process as the Oculus Rift. A company called Avegant is developing a pair of goggles that work slightly differently than the Rift. Instead of being a screen, they project the light directly into your eyes. Another device, called the castAR, uses a projector to display on special surfaces. This device was made by ex-Valve employees and has been marketed for several uses, including gaming, education, and, most importantly, Dungeons & Dragons. It is being funded through Kickstarter and, as of writing this, has been funded with 24 days to go in the campaign.

With all of these devices coming out in the near future, it seems that my dream of virtual reality gaming is coming to life and soon we will all be able to become one with our games. I don’t see this being the future, though. As much as I love the prospect of virtual reality, it seems very niche. The Oculus Rift development kit sells for $300 and the cheapest price for the castAR is $189. This price tag will guarantee that only hardcore PC gamers will initially adopt it, assuming there’s no price drops near the release day.

Virtual reality is also a very young technology. The developers are still working out many kinks, such as display size and motion sickness issues. The most glaring flaw I see in VR is that it doesn’t add anything to the actual games other than a new level of immersion. Much like the Nintendo Wii and the motion gaming phenomenon, it’s a cool concept, but it seems like a gimmick rather than an innovation. To its credit, it looks like an awesome gimmick, but it doesn’t look like something that will dramatically change the way we play games, especially at that price point.

Though I don’t think this is revolutionary, I really like the idea of virtual reality, especially a set-up I could feasibly own. When I was a kid, I had the idea that I would have to go to an arcade to experience virtual reality. It’s cool to think that, in the near future, I can experience things like  virtual skeeball in my home. Virtual reality might not be a game changer, but it has its place in the gaming community.