By Justin Agrell
For well over a year, the Prescott PC Gamers Group has hosted gaming events that feature virtual reality devices. The most popular is the HTC Vive. I’ve had many experiences that solidified my belief in the future of virtual reality, but one definitely stands out in particular. Several regular members had decided to join a game called “Eleven Assassins” where we each played a bow-wielding elf defending a castle against various fantastic beasts. Our play extended for well over an hour and by the end of our session we were bemoaning our sore arm and leg muscles. We were physically exhausted. The best part of the experience is that we were completely unaware of the intense workout we were getting at the time. Sure, we could feel tiredness and pain in our limbs, but apparently muscle damage is of lower priority than an axe rapidly approaching your face. You dodge the attack without hesitation out of sheer instinct. It was the best leg workout I’ve ever had. When all was said and done, I must’ve done at least 24 quick squats not to mention the other leans and arm lifting performed to function my virtual bow and to avoid dragon’s breath. Incredibly, I now look forward to exercise instead of considering it a chore necessary for my health.
When we show off our VR equipment at our gatherings we always manage to impress the players, but we are used to some negative comments as well. After the average player completes a 45-minute session or so, they tend to think it was only about fifteen. We then get the few cries of intent to purchase a unit as soon as they are financially able and the proclamation of which friend of theirs must absolutely try it next. The usual complaints are “There is no future in virtual reality,” or simply, “No thanks, that is not for me.” Most of these are from people who refuse to even put the headset on in the first place. I’ll now tell you, in full confidence, that not only is VR ready for the mainstream consumer, but it will, at this point, be impossible to get rid of since the benefits of the technology are already being realized in full.
Playing games in virtual reality is only the tip of the iceberg. When technology companies decided that it was about time to bring VR back from the death it died in the ’80s, they needed to monetize it. The easiest way for them to make money was to have independent developers create demo games that were easy to make and that early adopters would rush to pay a premium for. Which is exactly what happened. The game demos were created, the money was made, and that era is already behind us. Companies learned that there is definitely a market for VR games, but more importantly, that the technology can be used to help billions of people in myriad ways. Two industries that will be improved: medicine and military. A recent incredible discovery — and one I’ve personally experienced — is that the pain a person is feeling can be lessened just by convincing their mind that they’re somewhere else. This is mostly useful to those in pain management who are currently stuck in a hospital bed. The ability to visit a virtual Paris or fly like a bird transports their minds out of the hospital and may significantly increase their quality of life. On the military side, soldiers will soon theoretically be able to create their tactics in a virtually rendered environment generated by a 3D imaging of the place they’re en route to, thus improving their odds of survival and reducing the likelihood of injury. To me, though, the best feature virtual reality has to offer is education. By the time I read “Ready Player One,” I already owned a Vive headset. The book offered a vision of a school system that I found completely inspiring. The protagonist of the story goes to school with other real-life students using VR. No books, no walking or being driven to school, and stopping a bully is as simple as muting them. Now don’t misunderstand me; I’m completely for physical socialization (I do, in fact, run a geeky meet-up once a month.) Keep in mind that there are many people without readily available transportation and other opportunities most of us take for granted. And, in a virtual world, you’d use an avatar to represent yourself. Your avatar can represent you however you’d like — any gender or age, any skin color or race. In fact, if we want to be rendered as a panda bear or a robot, that’s possible, too. There’s essentially no limitation. With that scope of representation(s), it’d be much harder to form prejudices or categorize others on anything apart from their preferences. In theory, once the novelty wore off, it’d allow everyone to focus on the most important task at hand, learning. Would that be welcome?
Justin Agrell has been a certified IT technician since 2005. He loves Linux, adventure motorcycling, and computer gaming. To get in touch, just email him at Justin@U4E.US.