For the longest time gamers were being stereotyped as shut in geeks, who were allergic to the sun and anything involving interacting with the rest of the world. If you thought of gamers you probably had the image of Gollum in mind, you know, the ones where he really wanted that ring, like he could be a crack addict. Not the ones where he slightly behaved and looked somewhat acceptable.
Lucky for us gamers, much of that view has changed and gaming has acquired a status where it is even somewhat odd if you’ve never gamed before. It has slowly found a very comfortable spot in our society after all this time, mainly because more people live in this age that grew up with all of those games, it is ingrained in most of our childhoods. More and more studies (because they do studies about almost anything these days) even show that the view of this asocial loner gamer is wrong and that gamers are often more social people than the non-gaming community. There are more and more events being organized these days where gamers come and mass together, sadly sometimes into sweaty meat piles, sometimes these involve tournaments, LAN-parties or friendly get togethers with a bunch of consoles set up. There are even those who met online and formed a guild in an MMO, a clan from a shooter game and they have a guild/clan meeting where they meet up and have fun.
It is said that the internet often brings people closer together, our big world got a whole lot smaller, it is often viewed as that we think that’s because the wires conveniently link us together now. However, it goes beyond those wires. It’s as if suddenly gamers came out of their dark caves and embraced the sunlight, deciding they liked it …. Yeah, ummm no. This is n’t just some new modern trend that’s been going on though, I remember going out to game at a friends house and we were there with several people, so many of us cramped in one room we had to fight over the comfy couch spots. Besides being a gamer I also enjoyed other activities outside with friends, because we weren’t those shut-ins the world viewed us as for the longest time, and we firmly believed that too much of anything wasn’t good anyways, and once in a while it just felt good to run in fresh air and push your best friend into a muddy puddle… that and our parents shoved us outside when they were through with our noise making inside.
We live in the times of fast progress when it comes to technology. Admittedly, some seem like they could have progressed faster. We get to see so many changes during such a short time.
When I look back on my own early days I remember the 8bit games, and even text based games in the beginning. Then on to the first 3D-renderings where you could still count the polygons and people looked like they were made out of cardboard boxes. Then slightly continuing towards a smoother looking environment and characters and followed up by the amazing next-gen games. We had the chance to see all of this, the generations after us might not get why we have such nostalgic feelings about those rough looking, sluggishly moving things we used to call games. This is most likely always going to be the case with any new generation. Anything out of your own childhood was just better, the previous generation will just not get you and the newer generation is just so much more stupid than you to get why it was great.
Some of these advances help bring the games to a broader public. There’s a bigger variety. There’s not just gamers but also techies now and so many other reasons, some more stupid than the other but that comes as part of any deal of increased popularity. One of these advances lies in the recent upcoming of VR-tech (Virtual Reality technology, if you weren’t up to date on the more commonly know acronyms).
It’s been a dream for many of us for years now, we have waited so long for this to come to fruition, slowly but surely actual working VR-goggles are being brought to the masses (at a hefty price still mind you). VR gaming has the potential to open a whole new variety of games or known games in a new jacket. It also has the potential to experience group gaming in a whole new way. Entire new sort of events are being held just to demonstrate what these new VR-goggles do and why the hell you’d want one.
I managed to experience some of this first hand by trying it out. Yes, I probably looked a bit silly waving my hands wildly around in the air trying to shoot make-believe zombies no one else could see. But, not only was I surprised of my own experience with this device but mostly by the way this brought so many people to the same spot to share these experiences.
At one game convention (here in Belgium of course) people lined up for TWO HOURS, two freaking hours of shuffling in a line with nothing else to do besides waiting and hoping the person closest to you has no overly boring stories to share with you, and all that to try out VR for two minutes. Quite the trade-off there right? Two hours … for two minutes, no fee had to be paid luckily but it still seems like a big payout time wise then. Still it brought everyone together, people interacting and shuffling towards their common goal, all having a good time and being super enthusiastic about trying out the newest thing no one can afford to have in their own household yet. Personally if I had been there and known that I had to wait for two hours I would have kindly said “fuck off VR catch you another time.” It was a good thing two other things worked in my favor. First being it was a different, calmer event and second, I’m friends with the guy who organizes it and owns those devices, yes sometimes it does pay to have friends in the right places (mostly always actually).
VR can be used in so many more projects to bring even more people together, group events through VR or by VR. The person I talked about before is David Van Ballaer. He invested in several oculus rifts and also some HTC valves, he plans on doing more events with them and in the long run use them for VR-parties for birthdays, company team building or just plain wanting to have a fun time with VR.
This is a new way that gaming can be used in alternate environments and create a new sort of social aspect to the gaming world. I myself, for instance, see how VR can be used in a plain room with just some plain walls and random boxes that on first sight seem useless and in the way. You put on those VR-goggles and every time you can load in a brand new world and explore it. You can use these environments to have different sorts of activities, like a shooter game set on an alien world or a virtual puzzle you have to solve in order to advance. There are already people and companies developing these activities, for instance you could have a look at https://thevoid.com/ or look The Void up on YouTube.
At the moment there are two big players releasing their product; the HTC Valve and the Oculus Rift, both with a slightly different approach. While the Oculus focuses on you sitting behind a pc and still using your controller to interface with the game, the Valve has its own two controllers, one for each hand, to interact with the 3D environment you are standing in. Yes, standing IN, because the Valve has motion sensors set up around you that can locate you through your headset and the two controllers, so you can walk around in the area by walking around in the real world. This area is limited to the set up you put in advance and you calibrate the limits of this area at the beginning of the set-up, at the moment this has a maximum area size of 24m².
Now this does seem like a small advantage for the Valve since it gives you more immersion than the Oculus does, good thing is though that the people behind the Oculus are also working on area sensors and controllers, basically bringing them on the same playing field. Since they haven’t released these yet for now it is still hard to properly compare the two and say which one has the most advantages. We’ll just have to re-evaluate when Oculus does release the new hardware.
We did notice that the newer Oculus has a build in headset while the Valve does not, this means that with the Valve you’d either have to add your own headset to the costs, or use boxes and environmental sounds. Each person will always have their own experiences and opinions so it will always stay subjective when choosing between the two products. I am just glad to see that so many people can rally around a thing we’ve been dreaming about ever since we saw them in so many science fiction movies and decided “I freaking want that in my home, now!”
For now I’ll leave it at this, however this article will continue the next time in part 2 where I’ll focus more on a gaming community and include an interview with David Van Ballaer, a driving force here in Belgium behind both VR and creating a gaming community through events/tournaments.
For those of you who are interested, here are some videos from during my researching and testing of VR: