I pre-ordered an Oculus Rift on day one, and after a mess of mixed messages and delays, it finally arrived at my house a couple weeks ago. It wasnt just the conclusion of a prolonged ordering process, it was the completion of an impossible dream. I literally own a virtual reality headset. When I say Ive been waiting my entire life for the Oculus Rift, I dont mean the specific Facebook product, I mean the ability to own magical goggles that can transport me into virtual worlds. And now I have such a thing.
For months, years even, Ive been reading mostly tech journalists extol the virtues of VR, and the ones that managed to get their hands on early headsets seems to have gotten permanently attached to them. VR use is now an almost daily occurrence for them, some have entire rooms blocked off for the sole purpose of virtual reality. I too thought that I would be one of the converted once I finally had my own headset, but so far, the Oculus Rift has not become integrated into my life. Not at all, really. Currently, its in the box, in my closet, only taken out on rare occasions (you think Im going to leave it out with all those messy cords everywhere? Please). And Im frankly shocked that me of all people, addict of escapist media, is not immediately and hopelessly hooked on virtual reality.
Im not saying its not impressive. Those first few days where youre trying out every tech demo in the store, and spending hundreds of dollars on games so you can try them all are kind of magical. Everyone Ive shown VR to has been floored by the concept, and couldn't stop smiling when they used it.
But, take my one friend, who tried out the Rift, played The Climb, beat the first level, and liked it.
Want to keep going? I asked.
Nah, he said. Lets play Halo.
My friends, my wife, my parents all seemed to like VR, but none have asked for another go-round. And I find myself watching TV and playing the same old console and PC games like I used to. Nothing has changed for me, not really.
Some may take this as a criticism of the Oculus Rift itself. I know everyone believes the HTC Vive to be the vastly superior option, with full room tracking, motion controllers and what have you, but as much as I appreciate those things A) I cant spare an entire room for VR in my place and B) motion controllers may feel more intuitive, but theyre not a magic bullet.
In a way, as cringe-y as this comparison will be, I cant help but feeling shades of the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect in my Oculus Rift. I remember showing friends and family Wii Bowling or Dance Central and having everyone get very excited about the tech. But after a few days or weeks? No one cared any more.
The Wii was a sales success, but fundamentally changed very little about gaming going forward. The Kinect was an abject failure, and is the reason Microsoft is losing this console generation.
I dont think VR will follow this same path. Despite my surprising lack of interest in VR, I recognize that it is the future. This isnt one company making some gimmicky piece of tech that wows people for a few hours. This is going to be a new industry that draws serious investment from major players. Were already seeing it from Valve, Sony and Facebook. Google is on the fringe and lord knows when Apple unveils their own VR headset, itll be game over.
But being an early adopter of the tech is uncomfortable, sometimes literally. The headset doesnt always fit quite right, and the experience can be straight up exhausting. I can play six hours of Destiny without blinking, but after 30 minutes of VR, I need a nap. And in terms of gaming, its weird to go back a few steps in terms of graphical fidelity, both in modeling and resolution, especially on the Rift. Its a trade-off. Everything looks worse, but you get to experience it in VR. When it isnt a trade-off, but purely a benefit, thats when VR really takes off.
And despite friends and family seeming to enjoy VR, I cant recommend anyone actually buy it. Good lord, no. Im fortunate I have an expensive gaming PC that can run it, but even if someone actually did have such a thing, telling them to spend $600+ on a headset right now would just be madness, given the relatively small scope of the software at present.
Game Informers Dan Tack wrote a great article back in January called VR is the future, but the future isnt now. Thats pretty much exactly how I feel about VR. I see the potential, I see how its going to change the world, but right now in this very first iteration, its tough to see it as a true competitor to all my other traditional forms of media. I know that will change as time goes on, but I think VR is going to have a very, very slow start outside the enthusiast community. Thats not unusual for a lot of tech, but even among those who want to be converted, like me, I dont think these gen-1 headsets will necessarily do the trick.
So, I believe in the concept, but that hasnt stopped my headset from collecting dust, as Ive returned to my PC and PS4 to play games and watch TV the old fashioned way. Maybe Im just getting old, or maybe VR needs more time to marinate.
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