Bennett Fort ’19
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few months, then you have most likely heard about something called virtual reality, or VR for short. It’s pretty self-explanatory: it’s a headset that a person can wear that will automatically put the individual someplace else in a certain situation or just in an environment that the person can then explore. Right now, VR is mostly being used for video games, and I, after experiencing the higher end of VR twice now, believe it is truly something special. I would even go as far to say that, if VR picks up, it could change the entire world.
Before I begin, why don’t we go over some of the current virtual reality headsets on the market. The lowest on this ladder of VR is that of Google Cardboard, which is basically just a glorified piece of cardboard that you can stick your phone into. But, Cardboard is underdeveloped and, specifically for iPhones, lacks any really great experiences that show the true potential of VR. Next up is the Samsung Gear VR headset, which is only compatible with Samsung phones, but does have some great experiences, one of which is the once incredibly popular world of Minecraft. However, Gear VR also lacks a sense of immersion, which I can confirm from first hand experience. Next is the Oculus Rift, a $600 headset that requires an already very powerful PC to operate and, at the moment, has no killer apps that set it apart from the competition. The Rift also does not even have motion controllers right now, but they will release in December for $200 and would therefore bring the price of complete immersion with the Rift to $800. Up from the Rift is the HTC Vive, an $800 headset that also requires a powerful PC and needs a particularly large room to operate because it uses two cameras positioned in opposite corners of the room to simulate a virtual world. So, we have a piece of cardboard; an exclusive, immersion-lacking, mobile device; an overpriced, underutilized device; and another overpriced, yet very-high-end headset that provides true immersion. But, I’m forgetting one (I’m not really, because in my opinion, this is the best one): Playstation VR. This headset is $400, has precise motion controls, a futuristic, spiffy-looking headset and the best list of games of any VR system so far.
One may ask, “What does it feel like?” Well, my imaginary questioner, it feels, well, different. I myself have tested PSVR twice now and still cannot quite put my finger on exactly what the experience of stepping into a virtual world is like. This is because it may be different for each person who puts on the headset. But, to give you an idea, I’ll talk about my first-hand experience.
The first time I tried it, I played a game called Battlezone, in which the player is placed in the cockpit of a tank, and must then fight off enemy forces using an array of different weapons. The experience of that headset being stuck on my head and being suddenly thrust into a tank was perplexing. I still knew I was sitting in a Best Buy, but I also thought I was inside a tank. Then, the tank began to move upward on an elevator until I was in the middle of a city. I looked around and began to examine the buildings surrounding me. I couldn’t see where the buildings ended, and I suddenly felt like such a small part of a massive world. I lost track of the fact that I was not, in fact, in a tank in the middle of a city, but was actually sitting in the middle of a Best Buy with twenty other people waiting impatiently to enter the world of VR. I played through a series of battles against other tanks until I had defeated them all. Then, just as I was thrust into the virtual world, I was quickly yanked out. That was it, and I left the Best Buy with a sense of curiosity about whether VR was actually something incredible, just a gimmick, or if it was something else entirely.
I decided to try it again. Just last week, I headed back out to Best Buy with only one purpose: becoming Batman. Yes, there is a VR Batman game exclusively on PSVR. The line was non-existent, and so I was immediately thrust back into a virtual world. The title screen came up a few seconds after I slipped the surprisingly comfortable headset on for the second time. I was standing on the top of GCPD, looking out across the wide expanse of Gotham City. It was incredible and awe-inspiring. I looked around for a bit, becoming a part of the world I had ached to be a part of as a child. Then, I began the demo. Suddenly, I was sitting in a particularly large room in Wayne Manor. I looked at my hands and noticed that the knuckles were bruised, obviously from Batman’s late nights on the town. I was given the key to the piano by Alfred, and after playing a few notes, the floor opened up and I was yanked down into the depths of the underside of Wayne Manor. The elevator stopped in a room in which I could put on the Batsuit. I began the process, and a few steps in the cowl came down from above. I grabbed it and stared into the empty eyeholes. Then, I put it on. A screen came shooting in from the right side of my peripheral vision. It showed me what I looked like, and I looked like Batman. No, I WAS Batman. The demo then sent me through a series of tests that involved using the Batclaw and some batarangs for the first time. After completing these exercises, I was then sent down even further. The music began to swell, and there I was, in the Batcave, with the classic, massive, model dinosaur to my left and the insanely large penny to my right. But once again, just a few seconds later, I was thrust back into the real world. My explanation no doubt put you, the reader, into a similar experience to that of mine, but it was much more real to me. I became a true believer in VR after that demo and understand its importance even more now.
The varying degrees of quality in the VR headsets is something that may not matter that much, because PSVR is not as powerful as the Vive and the Rift, but the experience I had proves that it can just as realistically suck one into an entirely different world. Leaving behind the idea of which headset is the best for a moment, the idea of creating and walking around in virtual worlds expands far beyond gaming. Architects can use VR to create buildings before they do so in the real world. Google Maps can, and already is, using it to show a person exactly where he or she needs to be to locate his or her destination. There are many more uses for VR than that of just becoming a character you wanted to be as a child. The promise of a virtual world is one that already is being fulfilled, and in the years to come, I hope to see VR grow and infect the world. VR is the future, and those who are skeptical of its permanence in the world of technology need to understand that running from the future is not always a good thing. We run from A.I because of how pop culture portrays it, but does that mean all A.I. will try and destroy us? We are scared of moving forward from a present that we are comfortable in. So, I urge everyone to at least try VR before dismissing it. After all, who doesn’t want to be Batman?