Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Virtual Reality: Experiences and Nostalgia

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 16, 2017

Nostalgia is a powerful force. It’s been the inspiration for songs, stories, movies, video games, you name it. I was somewhat amused the other day by a couple of songs from my teenaged years that were nostalgia-driven, talking about eras as far in the past then as the songs themselves are to me. Or movies like the original Back to the Future, which was 30 years ago… and was about a time machine that went back 30 years into the past.

I guess that’s a thing that hits creative people at my age. Maybe it’s because after 20-30 years, things have changed so drastically that there’s not really anything left of the past.  Like Eddie Money sang in “I Wanna Go Back” – “I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t, I can’t, I know.” It’s passed into history, never to return but in imperfect form in media and reenactment enthusiasts.

That’s probably the appeal of the book (and soon to be movie) Ready Player One. At least for the audience of people my age. Aside from some really quality reenactments or LARPing experiences, Virtual Reality is potentially the next best thing to being there. I say potentially because the technology is still in its infancy… good enough, finally, to be enjoyed by consumers. The tech and the experience will keep getting better. I personally look forward to 4x today’s pixel density while maintaining the quality of visuals we’re used to seeing in AAA games today, plus better hand-tracking.

One of the ways VR seems to be going (and this may only be because its early and development is catching up) is an emphasis on experiences. Yes, there are games. There are 3D videos. My day job involves creating software that uses VR for training students to operate expensive and dangerous machinery. But one of the surprises for me, at least… feeling like the jaded gamer that I am… was simply the experience. Virtual Reality in 2017 is still a bit more like an amusement park than an arcade. But it works.

We experience the world in first-person, and–usually–in three dimensions. We depend heavily on sight and sound, especially for perception of the world outside outside our immediate vicinity, and when Virtual Reality (mostly) hijacks those senses, it’s powerful. (It’s also enlightening how many other senses we depend on to corroborate or add context to vision and audio for our perception of the world around us… senses we usually ignore until they start coming into conflict with what our eyes and ears are telling us).  There’s some deep sorcery at work inside of VR, no matter how many hours I spend “in” it. Just like the real world, it can get boring just “being there” inside a virtual environment, but there’s still a thrill there that’s quite a bit more powerful than you can experience on a widescreen TV.

Batman: Arkham VR, judged purely as a game, was weak sauce. The puzzles were easy, and the whole game can be played in one session of less than an hour, even without hints. I’m glad I got it at a steep discount. But at the price I paid, it is a pretty cool experience. Just looking in the mirror and seeing yourself as Batman is really cool. My response was to say in my best Christian Bale voice, “I’m Batman!” and pose with my fists up. It’s wild. My daughter, upon reaching the same stage in the game, immediately began giggling and started doing the chicken dance. I watched it in the monitor. Things that have been seen cannot be unseen. Batman dancing like a girl doing the chicken dance… yeah.

There are many other titles out there which really are just “experiences” – like TheBLU, Apollo 11 VR,  and similar titles.  All varying quality.  They may have some game-like interactive elements, but it’s really just about walking / floating around in virtual worlds.

Some of these titles are capitalizing on nostalgia. Like Ready Player One, they emphasizing creating VR experiences reminiscent not of worlds that don’t exist or can’t be experienced, but worlds that used to exist and players might remember. That’s a little dangerous, because we can recognize what the developer got wrong. But if you feel like indulging your nostalgia, it’s a convenient way to do it. Because those fashions aren’t coming back. Neither are the arcades, at least not as we remember. But… if you really want… you can model your own vintage style arcade in VR, complete with emulators…

There are some other retro-fueled experiences out there, but… well, let’s just say some are better than others and leave it at that. Does nostalgia improve the experience? Can VR provide people with the impossible dream of reliving their childhood? Well, not exactly. And I’m actually not sure if nostalgia can help you fill in the blanks to make the experience more powerful, or if the failures and inconsistencies simply drive it home that you can’t relive the past. The jury is still out as far as I am concerned.

And will simply “experiencing” VR grow old? When mobile apps first started really taking off, the market was flooded with… stuff. Just stuff. Fart sound makers and the like. Here it is, a decade later, and… well, okay. Maybe it hasn’t changed all that much. It’s matured, but mobile gaming is still its own thing, not just a miniaturized and portable version of console gaming.

It’ll be interesting to see what VR will be like 5 or 10 years from now. And maybe then, we’ll be looking back with nostalgia at these early days of the medium, when things were still so new and cool and experimental.

Filed Under: Books, Retro, Virtual Reality - Comments: Comments are off for this article

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