Friday, April 08, 2016

Virtual reality scares me.

Perhaps that is not surprising but you might be surprised to know why it scares me.

I have dreamed about virtual reality and virtual worlds since I was a kid back in the 1970s. The distopian fiction of William Gibson didn't put me off virtual worlds  instead it opened my eyes to the incredible possibilities. Virtual reality would offer humans a chance to escape from physical limitaions and the fictional representations of virutal reality in books, TV and movies whetted my appetite for it. During my formative years in the 1970's and 80's the hardware available could barely host crudely pixelated 2D environments and yet they fed the spark of my enthusiasm. When three dimiensional game worlds became possible with 1990's hardware I got further sucked in and PC gaming became my main hobby. The advent of online multiplayer worlds in the noughties was further proof that this was really going to happen. At the time I thought  / hoped that the mmorpgs might develop over time to be more than just games and instead become fully immersive virtual alternatives to the real world. This didn't happen. The public voted with their wallets for mmorpgs that focussed on being a games rather than being worlds and then most of the public lost interest in the mmorpg genre altogether.

Even though gaming hasn't yet proved to be the path to full virtual reality it has been a driving force behind the development of technology that would underpin full virtual worlds and this development has progressed ever onwards. The release of 3D virtual reality headsets such as the Occulus Rift and HTC Vive this year is an major step. Of course these early products are somewhat crude with high prices, rough edges and somewhat impractical space and supporting hardware demands but they have caught the public imagination. There is a definite feeling out there that virtual reality is going to be the "Next Big Thing". I think it is particularly significant thet many people are looking at applications beyond gaming for virtual reality: in business, education and other fields. If the public show a demand for applications or virtual reality then the march of technology will bring down the price and increase the usability of virtual reality infrastructure.

It may be another false dawn but it may also be the start of virtual reality becoming actual reality. I am excited about this but I am also scared. I am scared because if virtual reality takes off it is likely to render the 2 dimensional gaming that I have spend so much time indulging in obsolete and irrelevant. I am scared because I am not sure that I myself am going to be able to make the transition to fully immersive VR. Despite longstanding enthusaism for virtual reality I have no desire to don a headset and jump around a room while immersed in a 3 D simulation. Pehaps I am too old. Perhaps I am too set in my ways.

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