VR software has been the subject of media attention, futuristic TV shows and hype on “Tomorrow’s World” for so long that it’s hard to beleive that it could ever really exist, but now it does, and it’s accessible to the average consumer too!
VR software is now available for use with home consoles and with gaming PCs that are priced at a level that the average middle-class consumer would be able to afford. It is something that can be played with in game stores, and that schools and colleges are starting to use too.
While the obvious application of VR software is for virtual worlds for entertainment, there are other uses out there in education and in professional spaces too. Town planners can use VR tools to get an ‘on the ground’ view of the average property. Surgeons can simulate their work to practice complex and confusing surgery before trying to do the real thing on a human being. Nervous drivers can try simulated driving to check that they know the rules of the road before going out there and putting themselves on a real road surrounded by moving vehicles. Students can ‘travel back in time’ and experience how the world used to be through VR recreations that really bring history to life.
Almost anything can be made using VR. There are simulations that help people experience what it is like to be taller or shorter, ones that show people how a color blind person experiences the world, and ones that will even recreate the kind of invasive feeling that someone with a sensory overload issue – such as those associated with aspergers and autism – might experience.
VR games are popular with people of all ages because they offer a safe way to get the thrill of flying, fighting, skiing, sailing, shooting, or simply existing in a magical world. There are, however, some interesting issues associated with using VR online. Even traditional screen-based VR games have issues with harassment and bullying, but imaging if someone ‘assaults’ an avatar. That experience is far more visceral than what you might imagine, since there is a much stronger experience of ‘being’ when you are in virtual reality compared to when you are simply controlling a figure on a screen. The developers of VR games are struggling to come up with anti-bullying and harassment systems that will keep their players safe, and that will ensure that there are no likely avenues for lawsuits.
We are just starting to see virtual reality mature and grow and it’s going to be a learning experience for everyone – developers, hardware makers and users alike. Doubtless there will be issues with motion sickness, accidents, addiction, and many other things that we can’t predict, as the technology evolves over the next few decades. It could be that augmented reality becomes more important than true virtual reality. It could be that there is a place for both. We won’t know until we let the world mature a little.