It seems that everyone has their own opinion about whether or not virtual reality (VR) is going to be “the next big thing”. It’s not a new concept by any means – in fact, the earliest VR headset dates back to 1939 in the form of the “View-Master” – but the latest wave of VR is beyond anything that has been commercially available before. The VR headsets that are set to hit the shelves this year succeed in truly submerging you into a virtual experience – and their application into everyday life could go well beyond video games and entertainment.
Samsung’s Gear VR, that requires a compatible Galaxy mobile phone to work, is already available commercially, having released last November. Oculus Rift, the PC-based VR headset, is set to release in March, with HTC’s Vive and PlayStation VR expected to be not too far behind. In the form of a duo of Development Kits, Oculus has had VR headsets available for some time, and anyone who has been lucky enough to get their hands on one knows just how special the technology is. There is already a wealth of games and applications available for the headsets, most of which are free to download as part of Oculus Share, a platform that allows developers to share their work to receive feedback through all stages of production.
With the first consumer version of Oculus Rift having its retail price being announced recently, there’s been a bit of uproar about the cost of the technology – the unit will debut at £499. It’s a lot of money, sure, and until the price becomes more universally affordable it’s unlikely to become mainstream technology just yet, but what exactly are you getting for that price?
In short, endless opportunities and experiences.
“Imagine going into your local travel agent to book your next holiday, and before you decide where you want to go you can actually walk around each resort, taking in all they have to offer”
To the general consumer, VR is naturally marketed as a gaming peripheral; a headset that will immerse you further into a game than any technology has ever done before. And you bet it will do that, and it’ll do it well. Thought a game like Outlast was terrifying enough already? Wait until those creepy corridors surround you; when you catch a movement in your peripheral vision and you’re just too scared to turn your head to look what it was. VR does an incredible job of putting you in the game, and the horror genre is one of the most prevalent so far. Affected is a horror experience that’s already made some waves, even as a free download. Essentially a walking simulator packed with jump scares and freaky environments, Affected takes you through three separate levels (a haunted house, an asylum and a carnival) with the sole intention of terrifying the life out of you. Just a quick look at the thousands of reaction videos on YouTube will tell you how successfully it manages to do that.
Of course, horror isn’t the only genre available. Racing and flying games are already popular, and how about a rollercoaster simulator? First person shooters and RPGs have been modded to feature VR support too. No genre is off bounds, and in time, it’s pretty certain that more and more games will come with VR capability to immerse you fully into the experience.
But what about away from gaming? Consumers might only be buying a VR headset for the intention of playing video games, but there’s a much wider scope for the technology that could change the way we see it.
There are endless possibilities for the application of virtual reality in education, healthcare and even home shopping and marketing. Imagine going into your local travel agent to book your next holiday, and before you decide where you want to go you can actually walk around each resort, taking in all they have to offer. Or perhaps you could browse the supermarket shelves from the comfort of your own home. From a health and social care perspective, VR could hold the answer for a lot of therapy and treatment types, especially for phobias and anxiety. People suffering with agoraphobia, or anxiety when outside in public spaces, can gradually work up to going outside by using a VR simulation of outdoor spaces. The same could be said for other phobias too: “flooding” is a valid technique used in behavioural psychology that could be done effectively and safely by using VR. If someone has a crippling fear of spiders, the school of thought adopted by many behavioural psychologists is that coming face to face with the fear – in this case a whole load of spiders – is the most effective way to cure it. Virtual reality could be used to put a patient in a safe and controlled area, where they can face a virtual version of their fear head-on. The same could be applied for fears of heights, or flying, or any number of other phobias.
“…the technology is here to stay and is not going to be a passing fad, if for no other reason than its potential application away from gaming”
Perhaps we’ll see virtual reality in classrooms in the not too distant future, too. What better way to teach children about historical events than letting them witness it first hand? Geography lessons would be infinitely more interesting, as far away locations can actually be visited, rather than just read about. Job training could also become more effective and immersive through the use of VR technology. In the way that pilots have been training in high-tech flight simulators for years, the widespread of VR could see that same method applied to other professions too. New army recruits could see the reality of war before being deployed. Building surveyors could test their skills in virtual buildings. Brain surgeons could operate on virtual brains.
Whatever your thoughts on virtual reality are at the minute, we think it’s safe to say that the technology is here to stay and is not going to be a passing fad, if for no other reason than its potential applications away from gaming. Even on a consumer level, it opens up a whole range of possibilities that the average person would never have had the chance to experience before. Going to outer space, for example. Climbing Everest. Visiting far away exotic lands.
VR might just change the way you see the world – quite literally.