GDC Highlights: The Truth About VR

Going to GDC, we knew VR would be a major talk point this year. The areas of coverage focusing on the good abound, but what about the negative? Not to sound pessimistic, but knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly about VR would provide a general, unbiased overview on the subject, so players and developers alike know just where we stand as an industry.

In search for answers, we attended “Exploring the Performance Limits of VR Systems (Presented by Futuremark).” As the title says, point-blankly, the limits were the focus, but we walked away rather disappointed. Rather than a view on limitations, we got a comparison between 4 models of VR units, and a few blurry graphs.

So, we turned our attention elsewhere: the GDC VR Lounge.

There were many games available to test out, some of which had screens so people waiting in line to play could see what the person currently testing it out was doing. Turning your head from the player, to the gameplay on the screen was a little strange at first, but after a few minutes, it’s very simple.

As a player, it feels surreal, running around in empty corridors, shooting at ambushing enemies. Test Automation Engineer at NCSoft, John Rodenburg, described it simply as “this is the future.”

However, the cons were prevalent as well. With something like common gaming, with a controller, you’re not the focus, the game is. Social interaction is encouraged. With VR, the attention is split between the player and the game, but the player is very much oblivious to the outside world. The focus for the player is in the game, becoming one with it. As great as it sounds, especially for people who find the story or gameplay appealing, imagine what problems this can lead to down the line.

If someone suffers from lack of social skills, depression, anxiety, etc. VR might seem like an escape from the outside world. While entertaining, it can become a substitute for real life, a crutch.

In fact, there’s many instances VR could be dangerous. Depending on content, seizures and even death are plausible. Speaking of content, what happens when explicit content gets made for the VR world? What will happen to countries where there’s already a population issue, like China, or Japan, where the male population is fairly awkward about women? Will surrogates be made for lonely men?

In essence, developers do what they do to help people feel a sense of happiness. For entertainment. Something as well intended, and entertaining as VR might seem like a good idea on the surface, but upon further inspection, proves to be a slippery slope to a much darker side of humanity.

At some point, it will stop being an extension of gaming, and become an extension of life. And that will be the day of reckoning.