Why VR Games Should Embrace Their Limitations

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Why VR Games Should Embrace Their Limitations
October 11, 2016

The future’s so bright, you gotta wear a VR headset: The virtual reality boom is upon us. We’ll be able to watch the upcoming Blade Runner sequel through Oculus, check out a VR miniseries next month from the director of the Bourne Identity, and maybe even visit a virtual version of your local car dealership.
 
As a result, creatives are enjoying the wild west of a new medium. As Jon Goldman, venture partner at Greycroft, put it in a recent interview:
 
“Right now, it’s a fantastic time to be an original creator, an original voice. These early adopters picking up these platforms want fresh, original stuff. They’re much more exploratory than the more mature users that will hopefully come in the next several years.”
 
What could possibly go wrong? Well, VR games are a new medium, so: a lot.
 
Why Limitations Can Be a Problem
 
Some VR games don’t push far enough, trying to turn the player into a passive observer rather than a gamer. Case in point: the new Batman VR game, which one GQ reviewer actually enjoyed, but which was a little boring:
 
“But for as much as I like Arkham VR, it’s also a game that highlights all the shortcomings of PS VR. It’s not so much a complete experience as it is a slice of one. It’s a game where you’re not so much being Batman as you are just doing a couple things that Batman does on a typical night out, which is mostly looking for clues in a murder mystery with a high-tech flashlight. It lasts about an hour, which is just long enough to keep the game from wearing thin, and about the maximum time any VR title should expect you to spend with it in one sitting.”
 
How Limitations Can Help
 
The counterexample from that same article was a puzzle game:
 
“The newness of VR has placed an inordinate emphasis on what games can do in it without thinking too much about whether or not they should. It’s why one of the best games available for PS VR at launch is Superhypercube, an astonishingly simple game that uses the depth of VR to offer a clever, Tetris-like puzzle game that’s challenging and addictive.”
 
Using the virtual space to get users to complete a puzzle allows them to use the limitations — hand movement is encouraged, while body movement is limited — without ignoring them.

It’s important not to push too far, forgetting that a headset can only realistically immerse a user in a setting that doesn’t move too quickly or deviate too much from the actual room in which the user is standing or sitting.
 
Product developers are still building the manual for what VR games can and can’t do. That’s an awesome project to tackle, but it will inevitably lead to failures. It looks like building an understanding of the physical and practical limitations behind a VR experience is one of the top lessons to learn.

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