We love video games, and spend countless hours seemingly entranced by our television, computer, or mobile devices. Whether we’re out in the streets catching Pokémon, or on our couch guiding Ms. Croft or Master Chief towards his next peril, we seemingly just can’t get enough play-time, making video games a projected 99.6-billion-dollar industry in 2016.
But why do we love the video game industry nowadays? Why is it so popular? To put it simply, video games are connective, and they fulfill psychological needs. Video games, quite like movies, transport us to fantastic worlds. We go on thrilling, and sometimes dangerous quests, and even the smallest things that we do: like choosing a particular set of clothes; or building your home in a game like World of Warcraft, seems useful and possibly consequential. We interact with and befriend interesting characters, sometimes going so far as to actually grow real para-social relationships with specific characters.
Games also fill human psychological needs. Human beings like to feel autonomous, it is why the terrible twos are “terrible.” “It’s not terrible for the kid. It’s terrible for the parent who has to listen to their kid say ‘No’ all the time.”, says Dr. Scott Rigby, cofounder of Immersyve, a research company involved in basic human needs and video games. “What is that kid doing? The kid is showing their autonomy. They want to be in control of their destiny, and they’re verbally flexing that muscle for the first time.” Video games allow us to be autonomous. As our character we choose what we do, where we go, and in most cases, what happens to us. There is a sense of control, a sense that we dictate what happens in the game. Video games also give a sense of competency and relatedness. As human beings, we love feeling like we are good at something, and adore feeling important and needed. For example, when you play a game like Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls, you are the most powerful of warriors, the dragonborn, and are born with special abilities. You save the world from an evil dragon, and help people out wherever you go. Emotionally, games make us feel good about ourselves. They make us feel like we can change the world.
We love games because they are interactive, but they have the potential to be so much more. This is where VR, combined with physicality comes in.
VR, right now, is a hot product, as the Oculus Rift is supposed to be one of the biggest items for Christmas shoppers this year. It gets rid of the television and puts you up close and personal with what you are watching. According to some, when VR is truly done right, it is unparalleled when it comes to interactivity. VR has also been a banner year for gaming, when it comes to content, one of Kramer’s 4 C’s. This year’s E3 conference, which is one of the, if not the biggest electronic gaming conferences, announced that a lot of big game companies are jumping on the bandwagon, and a lot of big name games, are testing the waters of VR. These games include popular names like: Fallout; Star Wars Battle Front; Batman Arkham; Star Trek; and Resident Evil. Along with the big brands, PlayStation has come out saying that they will incorporate about 50 games for their highly released PlayStation VR, meaning VR players will have a number of games to choose from, as well as popular games to play. However, there are many people who say VR will not be popular, at least for the near future, and there are some weaknesses VR has right now. One of the main weaknesses of VR, currently, is movement within the game. During demos of the VR game of Resident Evil 7, some people experienced motion sickness. VR games, especially mainstream games, largely have yet to figure out how to properly move around in a game.
Games that incorporate physical action also seem to be on the rise in the past decade. Games and simulations that have incorporated physical movement and reactions have actually dated back all the way to 1929. However, it has been within the last decade that we have seen physically-incorporating games take a major leap in terms of entertainment and gaming. In 2006, North America was introduced to the Wii, a major gaming console that set itself apart by heavily incorporating movement into gameplay, as most Xbox and PlayStation games were stationary. In 2010, Microsoft and Xbox launched the Kinect controller, which allowed full body motion. This year, we got Niantic’s Pokémon Go.
Over the summer, Pokémon Go was a smash hit, quickly and decisively becoming the number 1 selling mobile app of all time. The game had players go outside, and through Augmented Reality, or AR, had them catch the mystical monsters, level them up, hatch eggs, and win gyms. One of the major draws of this game was its social aspect. As you got up and walked around your neighborhood you met people playing Pokémon Go, and it was always a topic for conversation. Another reason it was popular was the physicallness of the game itself. It made people, especially 90’s kids, who grew up with the game, feel like they were actually a Pokémon trainer, which was a dream for some of them. Since they were the one’s walking, and since they were the one’s sleuthing down elusive Pokémon, they felt like a Pokémon trainer. It was the physical action that fostered a closer connection.
This leads some to believe that the future of gaming is when VR and physicality truly come together and create a realistic immersive experience for the gamer, otherwise known as full immersion virtual reality.
“Have you ever had a dream…that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake up from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” This is a popular quote from the sci-fi phenomenon: The Matrix. While one does not initially connect the movie with the gaming industry, the definition and characteristics of the matrix are the perfect analogy to a possible future in the gaming industry. Minus the sinister machines trying to enslave humanity, the design and feel of the Matrix is very much like full immersion virtual reality gaming. Full immersion VR is the point where virtual worlds seem so real, that they are, to the mind, indistinguishable from the one we actually inhabit.
Some indicators of this trend are Edward Cornish’s supertrend about Deculturization and his way of tracking trends through his acronym DEGEST, particularly the S which means Society. In his supertrend about Deculturization, Cornish talks about how differences between cultures are disappearing. He also expounds that we as a society are becoming increasingly and increasingly interlocked, something that is expressed in the gaming industry today. Over the past decade or so, games have become a way for players all around the world to become connected with each other. More people are gaming, Jane McGonigal expounded in her 2010 TED talk, as she said over 1 billion players will be added to the market in the next decade. MMORPGs and countless of other ways have sprung up in the world of gaming, giving us the chance to connect with players all around the world. One of the biggest examples would be World of Warcraft. In 2011 according to the World of Warcraft online wiki: 3.2 million people played the MMORPG in China, 1 million in the United Kingdom, 800,000 in South Korea, 600,000 in Germany, 350,000 in Taiwan, 200,000 in France, 150,000 in Russia, and 120,000 in Australia. Also, according to a 2015 study conducted by the ESA, or Entertainment Software association, video games really help people tap into society and other people. 39% of the most frequent gamers say that they play social games, and the most frequent gamers who play with other people, spend 6.5 hours a week playing with other people online, as compared to 5 hours playing with people in real life. A lot of people even find gaming to be good time spent with: friends, family, parents, and partners.
Full immersion VR could continue this trend. It could allow others to not only talk but also feel, hear, smell, and see each other, giving them a more realistic experience and helping them bond with other people, as olfactory senses are heavily connected with emotion. For example, ever since we were babies the sense of touch has been used to relax us. Hearing the heartbeat of its mother also helps a baby relax and go to sleep, which is why we cradle babies in a position related to our handedness. Couples use the sense of touch to convey closeness to one another, and the sense of touch even promotes cooperation.
Another indicator, is Cornish’s supertrend of technological innovation, and his acronym for tracking these trends DEGEST, with the T referring to technology. Recent technological innovations suggest a progression towards full immersion VR technology. In 2015, FEELREAL was developing a mask called the Nirvana 3D helmet. The item would allow you to use all 5 senses through immersive surround sound, “smell-o-vision”, and the ability to “feel” the senses as the whole face gets the “senses” of the mask. A UK company has also come up with a suit called the Teslasuit. The Teslasuit combines Electro Muscular Stimulation with virtual reality, so that users can feel sensations in the virtual world. Using EMS, the latest version of the suit allows users to feel pressure, meaning that when they are touched in the virtual world, they will feel it in reality. This technology could allow a person to feel sensations, like a soft breeze or a bullet, to an extent. The suit also is able to adjust its temperature according to the VR climate and will incorporate body motion as soon as a MoCap is tailored to the Teslasuit.
The incorporation of sight and smell and touch into VR could very well mean that we are on our way to full immersion virtual reality. We can already do so much with VR that we couldn’t just years ago, both awesome and inappropriate, that full immersion VR very well could be a trend we are heading towards.
So what would life and gaming be like with full immersion VR? Games would be like being put inside the Matrix, except without being enslaved by robots. Games would feel so real that the virtual reality will indistinguishable from real reality to the brain. By investing in VR companies that work with the other senses, and buying startups that focus on full immersion virtual reality, media businesses could get a jump ahead. It is also possible to that a new big media company could emerge from one of these startups.
However, full immersion could very well not become a reality at all. There are multiple factors standing in its way, and of those multiple factors, a lot of them are ethical.
There are a lot of factors that do not have to do with ethics, one being the problem of movement. At this years E3 event, there were complaints about getting motion sickness while using VR. If companies are not able to fix this, full immersion VR could very well be ruined, as the sense of movement is integral for a real experience. If we are not able to move convincingly, and could only teleport around, the illusion of full immersion would be broken. Another obstacle facing full immersion would be price. Right now, simple VR headsets can cost up to 300 dollars, and the Teslasuit was priced for 1,499 dollars. In order for full immersion VR to go mainstream, the cost would have to go way down. Today’s VR models can be extremely pricey, and they don’t even offer true full immersion. One more problem has to do with one of the 4 C’s mentioned earlier, content. Big name video games are getting on to VR, but this is just the beginning, and Batman Arkham and Star Trek are more mini-games than actual full fledged video games. A problem for full immersion VR, and VR in general is if it doesn’t get more varied and popular, and even popular original content. Without the sufficient content VR would not be able to get off of the ground, and past consoles in the gaming industry.
There are also a multitude of ethical issues to consider, when talking about full immersion VR. One of the most prominent being, will this create VR junkies? Video Game, and VR worlds, could very well become so popular, fantastic, and better than reality, that people might refuse to ever return. This might lead to people becoming too dependent on VR, and therefore experience things like withdrawal when they are in the real world. Even more scary, is the possibility that it may lead to people never returning to the real world, risking their health by: not eating; sleeping; drinking fluids; or any other acts of malnutrition, and possibly dying because of it.
Another ethical issue facing full immersion VR is: how far should we go? To have a true fully immersive experience you would not be able to decipher what is real and what is virtual. But, another scene from The Matrix demonstrates just how bad that could be. In this scene, Neo is bleeding, and turns to Morpheus saying he thought it (a simulation) wasn’t real, to which Morpheus answers “Your mind makes it real.” This makes Neo ask about what happens if you die in the Matrix, to which Morpheus responds that the body cannot live without the mind. This brings us to our ethical question: could you actually die playing in a full immersion reality? If you are shot in, say Call of Duty, would your mind actually think you were shot and die?
However, there are also opportunities in this trend, for the gaming industry, with one being increased connectivity between gamers. Above we discussed the ability that gaming has to connect us to people. With full immersion virtual reality, video gamers could be able to experience levels of comradery and unity that people who play physical sports together share, as gaming in full immersion virtual reality would have physical elements. One more opportunity is that full immersion VR will offer interactive gaming experiences like never before. With games that will have the ability to deceive your mind as to what is real and what is not, you won’t just play the action hero, you will be the action hero. It will be you doing the jumping. It will be you doing the running. It will be you doing the hacking and slashing. If your back is against a tree, while you are in hiding, you will be able to feel the tree. If you are in the middle of a heated battle, you will be able to smell gunpowder, as well as feel the ground beneath your feet. The player will feel like it is truly real life, offering up a level of interactivity in games that has never been achieved.
Because full immersion VR can have vast and varying impacts on the gaming industry, it is good to list out situations that may befall us when/or if full immersion virtual reality comes.
The No-Surprises Scenario:
In this scenario, everything turns out the way it has been progressing. As technology gets more advanced we find a way to incorporate full immersion virtual reality. This provides a wonderful gaming experience for people, but some have problems with addictions which could lead to health problems. We will not die during gameplay.
The Optimistic Scenario:
In this scenario, VR reaches full immersion, becoming one of the next big things in gaming. Gamers absolutely love full immersion VR, and the innovation helps bring players closer together. Developers will find a way to make us feel things without injuring, or killing us, like when we are shot in a first person shooter, while still convincing our minds that everything very well could be real. Minimal, health problems arise, if barely any at all.
The Pessimistic Scenario:
When full immersion is made, everything goes wrong. The mind is so convinced VR is actual reality that harmful and potentially fatal side affects occur. People also become so engrossed in the virtual world they stay there risking both their health and their lives.
Full immersion reality gaming could very well be in our future. While the trend does have flaws, and many ways that could stop it from coming to a reality, there are also oppurtunities that the video gaming industry can capitalize on, as well as trends and evidence that can very well be seen as heading towards full immersion VR. Full immersion virtual reality is not a foregone conclusion as the future of the gaming industry, but it could very well be.