The Year Of Virtual Reality


With the dawn of virtual reality game fast approaching, will we see a shift away from traditional gaming?

2016: the year of virtual reality.

That is, unless Sony’s PlayStation VR breaks the trend of a 2016 release.

Putting 2016 virtual reality aside for a moment, does anyone remember the Virtual Boy?

Back in 1995, Nintendo launched a virtual reality headset called Virtual Boy. It was the first mainstream attempt into 3D virtual reality gaming, and it was not pretty. It was a chunky, red headset with an atrocious-looking controller.

Nintendo must have been riding on its SNES success unicorn pretty high, having mistakenly analyzed the Virtual Boy might have a chance. Its sales were abysmal, selling only 770,000 units worldwide.

To compare, Nintendo’s most successful home console, the Wii, has sold 101.63 million units as of December 2015.

Nintendo would discontinue the Virtual Boy barely a year after they released the clunky headset. Either the world wasn’t ready for virtual reality or the first company to take it mainstream screwed up—royally.

Fast-forward to 2014.

I was visiting a video games bar in Osaka, Japan called Space Bar. Much like everything else in Japan, the bar was tiny. A micro-bar, I’d call it. It had consoles and controllers lined up against the walls and tucked away in an alcove room.

It also had the developer’s kit for the Oculus Rift with a few demos. I tried the virtual rollercoaster demo.

A minute later, I ripped it off and downed a glass of cold water. I wish someone had told me I would want to vomit afterward, because the 3D reality felt jarringly real. My brain was confused, my heart leapt out of its chest and I felt dizzy.

An Oculus Rift set /

Although this sounds like a negative reaction to virtual reality, it’s actually the opposite. This kind of reaction will be common among first-time virtual reality users, because it’s an indication it’s done right. And it’s indication virtual reality is ready to move into the mainstream gaming space. Graphics today are powerful enough to imitate real-life motion—in a way Virtual Boy couldn’t back in 1995.

Virtual reality seemed like a niche concept when Palmer Luckey revealed the Oculus Rift headset at E3 in 2012. But when Facebook acquired Oculus VR in 2014, everyone sat up a little straighter, didn’t we?

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When the social media giant acquired Oculus VR, it was a decision that seemed to consolidate the reality (pun unintended) of virtual reality being a “thing”. The Oculus Rift had real money backing it up now. The technology would not be financially barred or limited from reaching the full capabilities Luckey boasted of. That, and the Minecraft HoloLens presentation at E3 2015 showed what virtual reality could do. Those images of the Jetsons and futuristic hovercraft don’t seem so far away, after all.

Not to mention, even VR porn is making headway.

2016 will see the release of three virtual reality headsets: the Oculus Rift in March with the HTC Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR to follow.

HTC Vive product 2
HTC Vive /

The other question the concept of virtual reality is: will it replace couch gaming?

No, it will not. Here’s the best analogy I could think of:

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Remember when everyone wondered if e-books would replace traditional books? E-books were supposed to “revolutionize” reading, but what exactly about reading needed a revolutionizing? In the same sense, what about gaming in its current form needs revolutionizing?

Virtual reality will simply be another way to play. I’m sure many gamers are yearning for something fresh, but the touch and feel of joystick and buttons is not a hindrance to gaming and never will be.

At some point, I hope virtual reality will push the boundaries to allow those with physical disabilities be able to partake in the medium—but as for overhauling the existing form… It would have to take more than a revolutionary virtual reality headset to do that. Maybe a nuclear war.

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have a steep price at $600 USD and $800 USD, respectively. There is no further information on PlayStation VR, but we’ll likely hear more information at this year’s E3 in June.

What do you think of virtual reality gaming? Will you be one of the first to pick up the Oculus Rift in March?