Despite its infancy on the consumer side of things, virtual reality (VR) has burst onto the tech scene in a big way and for the most part, it’s been a pretty wild ride.
Being the giant nerd I am, I jumped on the VR bandwagon almost as soon as I could (short of scoring a Dev Kit), ordering myself the first consumer model Oculus Rift to wander around all manner of piss-pantsingly amazing virtual worlds.
Let me tell you: it’s a real bloody treat.
But then came the shortfalls and weird side effects that no one told me about or I simply chose to ignore, much to my own peril. Here are my favourite and not so favourite mind-fucks of VR.
YOU CAN’T HELP BUT REACH OUT TO TOUCH THINGS
The first couple of VR sessions I threw myself into were incredible. All I had to do was sit there and have a gander at what was going on around me. What struck me from the very beginning was the presence I felt – you know you’re not there, but goddamn if your brain isn’t tricked into it.
I reached out numerous times in an attempt to touch things that weren’t there and I sure as hell winced when a T-Rex got all up in my grill.
The problem is, that ‘presence’ is all thrown out the window if your hands are not realistically involved in the experience you’re in. So if you’re flying a space ship and using a joystick, you’re all good, but if you’re controlling a small fox with an Xbox controller, the feeling gets a little lost. But hey, it’s still pretty dang neat regardless.
The HTC Vive allows users to include their hands with controllers, so when you do reach out like a knob, you can actually interact with the world around you, creating a way more immersive experience.
I’m yet to take the Vive for a spin, but you better believe I’ll be all up in the Oculus Touch controls later this year.
MOTION SICKNESS IS A VERY REAL AND TERRIFYING POSSIBILITY
In the early days of development, many users of VR reported feelings of motion sickness, particularly if they used it for prolonged periods of time.
A big factor of this sickness during development was low refresh rates on the screens, something that has since been fixed in the consumer models.
Essentially, your run-o-the-mill TV or computer monitor will run at 60hz, meaning the screen refreshes 60 times every second. While the human eye can only see around 25 frames per second, 60hz is still not smooth enough to trick the brain into believing the experience is legit, leading to some pretty unpleasant feelings. Most headsets will now run between 90hz and 120hz.
Moving around in a virtual world has been quite the hurdle, too. In a seated position, using a controller to move the camera forward can make you feel a little off. Some workarounds like straight up teleporting instead of moving help, but you do get used to the feeling the more you play.
One of the first games I tried is called Adr1ft and is basically the movie Gravity staring the perma-concerned face of Sandra Bullock. The space station you inhabited has broken apart in a huge bloody mess and you have to fly around in your space suit trying to survive.
As you can imagine, the whole experience is pretty tense and being in an environment with no gravity can really bring on the sickness. The first time I played, I only lasted about 10 minutes before one barrel roll nearly made me yak all over my keyboard.
The good news is, the more you play, the more you’ll get used to it. Don’t overdo it though, or you might condition yourself to feel sick as soon as you put on the headset. Pavlov’s dog, motherfucker.
RECALLING EXPERIENCES IS LIKE RECALLING MEMORIES
This was by far the trippiest “side-effect” I have come across thus far. It might sound a little strange, but bear with me here.
When you play a normal video game, remembering that experience is usually in the context of you sitting in front of your computer or TV. Things are going on around you and they are factored into your memories.
But because VR is so encompassing, there is none of that external context to go with the memories you create, so it almost feels like the game itself has become a real memory.
With VR still very much in its early, awkward years, there’s ample room for software developers and hardware engineers to improve on the current experiences, particularly finding better ways around the shitty motion sickness part. But the future is bright and I, for one, am bloody excited.
Image: South Park.
This article was written by resident Futurist Editor Matt Hopkins – the lovechild of PEDESTRIAN.TV‘s partnership with Telstra. To learn more about how Telstra‘s bringing the magic of tech to life + our project with them, head HERE.