The trend makers would have you believe that in a year or so, every gamer is going to be taping a set of expensive goggles onto their eyeballs, and dipping their senses into artificial worlds.
For the second time in 25 years, we're seeing Virtual Reality being heralded as The Next Big Thing.
Project Morpheus. HTC Vive. Facebook shelling out $2 billion for Oculus Rift... The only way there could be more VR hype is if the actors Ving Rhames and Vanessa Redgrave opened a Very Rare Vortex Removal service, and at the launch party their Veins Ruptured in a Vacant Room while being watched Very Respectfully by the ghost of Victoria Regina.
But something has been niggling at me for a while. And that something is this something: I don't think it's going to happen. Not in the way they're telling us it will.
Oh, yeah, those initial units are going to sell out. There'll be hardware shortages, they'll be selling them for thousands on eBay, in the initial stages. But you watch it drop off after that. Most people aren't going to want VR. Cool as it is, it's never going to be more than a 3DTV-type faddy whimsy. There's good reason people will watch 3D films in the cinema, but not at home.
There are three things that get in the way of Virtual Reality taking off - and they're nothing to do with the price. They're much the same three things that helped to kill it the first time around.
Thing One is that you look like an idiot using one, and nobody likes to be laughed at (all clowns are crying on the inside). Thing Two is that you're removed from the real world. You could play with your Oculus Rift in the bedroom, but - probably - only when you're alone, to stop pranksters sneaking up on you and antiquing your pants. But then... if you're alone who's going to hear the doorbell, or answer the phone, if you're lost in some fancy gameworld?
Thing Three is that you mostly have to stand up to get the most out of VR. People are inherently lazy - unless you're some weird fitness freak, you want technology to make your life easier. Have you seen the people in Wall-E? They're all too fat to walk, being fed and cleaned by machines. It's a shame, but that's us. That's who we are. That's what we want.
You can take one or two of these things out of the equation, and you might still have something - let's face it, there was always much standing-up party fun to be had with the Wii, but then you were at least able to interact with other people in the same room. You could see where you were swinging your Wiimote. The real world still existed all around you.
But I honestly think those three factors combined are going to prevent VR taking off in the way that people working on it are hoping for - and I have done since the first Virtuality units started appearing in arcades, back in the 90s. Those machines were always the least played in the arcades: we'd all have a go the first time we saw one, but once that curiosity was satisfied there was little incentive to go back and risk the public humiliation. After a time, they stood abandoned, gathering dust motes like plastic monuments to folly.
And it seems I'm not alone in feeling this way.
Speaking to Gamesindustry.biz in the wake of E3, veteran developer Warren Spector said much the same thing.
He honked: "I think it'll generate some interest among the hardcore gamers. And I see amazing possibilities in VR for social media and virtual meetings and training and crazy stuff like dealing with phobias. But for entertainment? I'm just not seeing it."
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney echoed his sentiments: "VR is a 150 million user audience but it's not for the whole world."
And he's right. There are too many barriers in front of VR for it to ever replace our traditional games console interfaces. I could see it becoming something akin to IMAX - but even then, how do you get an audience of up to a thousand or so, all in VR headsets, interacting with a 360-degree cinematic experience? Where do you put them all?
There's no doubt the technology is incredible, and we're at a point where you can - convincingly - fool a person's brain into thinking they're in Middle Earth, or have travelled to Dagobah, but you're never going to immerse them enough into forgetting that somebody might be sneaking up behind them with a shiv, or that they might fall over their bed if they lunge too far in any direction.
I can't help but feel there's a gulf between journalists toying with Oculus Rift or Morpheus at trade shows - and foaming at the brow with excitement about it - and people actually buying one, and regularly using it in their homes.
For all the Michaelangelo we've extracted from Hololens, Tim Sweeney is right that Augmented Reality is more likely to be a winner - purely because it doesn't blot out the real world. You still look like an idiot using it, but at least you can see the people laughing at you.
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