Ever since technology made it possible, the world of online gaming has grown at a rapid pace. It’s the logical next step of classic escapism: instead of just getting to watch or read about events, you get to participate, immersing yourself into a fantasy scenario that might take you to the farthest reaches of space or the depths of the oceans.
In many ways, VR technology promises to provide the step after that — the future of immersion. For some, it’s already changed the game, and for many, it’s poised on the cusp of mainstream appeal. So what makes it so compelling, both practically and conceptually? And what kind of impact is it having? Let’s take a closer look at what may be the future of online gaming:
It’s enabling new types of gameplay
Melee-based gameplay has always been extremely difficult for developers to implement well. Whether you’re using a gamepad or a mouse, swinging a virtual sword is cumbersome at best, and unplayable at worst. Most games get around the problem by having melee combat cycle through preset attacks — it works, but it’s somewhat boring. Even those that provide half-decent directional swings (Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was something of a gem) aren’t great.
This is a big issue for online gameplay because if you’re going to be facing off against someone in melee combat, you want control over what’s happening. Recent games like For Honor use button-based systems to simulate struggles for control. That approach works well enough, but it doesn’t come close to the sword-swinging freedom that we all imagined as kids.
Through providing accurate motion tracking and viewing freedom, virtual reality is making new types of gameplay possible — introducing mechanics that will achieve some compelling things once the technology is fully mainstream. Look at hit VR games like Beat Saber. If you get to swing around a lightsaber and slice through obstacles, you’re going to have a good time. And for hints at multiplayer possibilities, look at Echo VR’s competitive motion-based gameplay.
It’s bringing legacy pursuits into the digital realm
Virtual reality isn’t just about creating fanciful new worlds, unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s also a fantastic way to create convenient reproductions of existing environments and games. Because of this, it can be applied to plenty of real-world activities to offer massively-increased convenience that you can enjoy from your home.
Think about whatever you consider the zenith of gaming with a group: it might be a D&D campaign, an arcade, or even a casino. Whatever it is, that experience can be replicated extremely well within virtual reality. Given the level of money involved, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s already been a lot of investment in virtual reality casinos — play when you want, no need to travel or stick to standard hours.
This is a compelling prospect because almost anything can be simulated well (there’s no sensory feedback yet, but even so), and games like Tabletop Simulator are adding VR support to pave the way for a future of virtual tabletop gaming. Whether you’re after a game of poker or a stirring RPG campaign, you can do it all through a VR headset.
It’s making gaming significantly healthier
When I say healthier here, I’m not referring to matters of finance, even though that also has an element of truth — VR as a gimmick is quite handy for justifying higher prices for games. No, I’m referring to the physical health of gamers. Gaming has typically been sedentary, with online gaming in particular (driven by time-sink MMORPGs) tempting players to stay hunched over at their desks for many hours at a time.
This is a huge concern for many people, gamers and otherwise. They view online gaming as fundamentally unhealthy, allowing the physical degradation it often enables to obscure all the positives that stem from the growth of rich online communities. But VR is starting to change how gaming is viewed. Fast-paced motion-controlled games can be physically taxing (the huge success of Wii Fit proved this), but that’s just the beginning.
Someone playing a VR game might be standing, turning around to change their view, moving around (albeit within a small area), ducking and leaning to avoid obstacles, and wielding motion controllers to direct the gameplay. That can be remarkably good exercise, even if you don’t compare it directly to standard gaming inactivity. So if VR really takes hold of online gaming one day, it could be good for everyone.
VR isn’t just a gimmick to sell expensive hardware. It has real long-term potential, and we’re already seeing the evidence of that. Through simulating real-world gaming scenarios, introducing new mechanics, and making it vastly easier to stay fit while being a dedicated gamer, VR is certainly transforming the online gaming industry.