Virtual Reality as the New Medium

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From the Oculus Rift to Sony’s PS4 VR headset, Virtual Reality is on a course to becoming mainstream and potentially in the hands of a new wider audience. With the potential of a new audience, there comes the challenge of creating intuitive controls and immersive experience for people who are unfamiliar with this medium. As designers, it is our job to make sure the users instinctively know how to interact with our work. There are only a handful of VR platforms to work on but development for newer and cheaper models are just over the horizon which you should be mindful of.

Since the release of the Playstation VR headset, virtual reality has finally reached a bigger audience than Oculus or HTC could grab with their expensive equipment. Even though Oculus and HTC have a higher performing VR headset, Playstation was able to bring the cost down to a reasonable market price. Along with this, Oculus, which is owned by Facebook, are intended to make a cheaper product that CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced during an annual developer’s conference . With Facebook having over 500 million users, Virtual Reality will most likely become a household commodity. There being a potential of a huge audience, it is very important that their introduction to Virtual Reality is not an alienating experience.

The audience that loved the Wii are not gamers. They loved the Wii for how easy it was to learn and play (with others). The same situation will likely occur with Virtual Reality becoming increasingly cheaper with each iteration. Having this knowledge of the audience, we the designers must be certain that our environments are just as easy to learn and play like the Wii to ensure people will have memorable experiences.

As amazing as Virtual Reality may seem to people, it does contain limitations and shortcomings you need to take into consideration. One limitation to remember is presence in your worlds, or the illusion of presence. These VR headsets aren’t exactly Virtual Reality but instead interactive 3D systems. In order to convince the brain that they are in this new world, designers have to create tricks like a magician pulling an act flawlessly. During 2014’s GDC (Game Developers Conference), Sony  gave a list of practices to avoid and focus on when making VR games. One of these practices was to never control the player’s head. This action forcefully takes the player’s immersion away and may even cause motion sickness. Another practice they emphasized on was how we interact with these immersive worlds. In order to grab the player’s attention, you need to make a “playable theme park instead of an interactive 3D movie”. This practice makes sense since you want the player to be convinced that they are an acting participant instead of a passenger, this encourages presence. These are just some practices to keep mindful of while planning your VR game. With the release of every game, different approaches to problems will help better understand the limitations of VR.

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Virtual Reality is an exciting opportunity for interactive multimedia that is welcoming new challenges and experiences we can create and share. This new avenue of creativity can create experiences that weren’t possible with traditional gaming and with that we can see old ideas through different perspectives.

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