How the VR Headset Will Crush Traditional Gaming (And Our Souls)
When I was young, a little boy trapped in his rural home, I gravitated to the beauty and wonder of video games. From as young as I can remember I had a video game to play. I had an Atari 2600 at 3 years old, thanks to a wonderful aunt and cousins, with which I would play hours of Sesame Street games, Tanks, The Empire Strikes Back and Pele Soccer. I had an NES that I shared with my sister when I was about 5 or 6 years old that quickly became my device as I played hours of Mario and Zelda. I have had a Sega Genesis (And a Sega Saturn which was a huge mistake), N64, Gamecube, Wii, PS3, PS4 and Wii U. But the best memories for me come from a time when I would play with my friends. We’d stay up late drinking Mountain Dew and playing hours of Battle Toads or Mega Man. Even as a kid that played mostly by himself, there was still a needed environment of group play.
Today I play alone. I am a single player campaign mode type of person. I do not play online, I do not like to play online and no you can’t have my ID to friend request me. I tried World of Warcraft to a lackluster experience, and I’ve played sports games online to the same yawn. It has never been something I’ve really enjoyed. But I still recognize the need for community in the gaming culture. I do not fault you for having online parties or long Halo sessions. I love that it has become just as integral a part of gaming culture as my love of a single player story has been.
But even as a child I realized that there are circumstances when a controller is too much. As a child, I would often put down my controllers and head out into the rural landscape of my home. I’d play baseball in the yard or play “Mario” by kicking all the wild mushrooms on the hill behind my house. I’d run up the hill to the cornfields above my house and run through as my dog chased me, much to my mother’s delight as I’d show up covered and scratches, bloody from the leaves. My family would take me camping nearly every weekend in the summer where I would water ski, ride bikes or just be a dirty kid. I’d learn how to make campfires, and properly bait a hook. I’d experience the beauty of a sunrise, or set, and see the wonder of catching a big fish. To me, there is nothing that can replace the feeling of the fresh summer air, the cold gust of wind right after a swim, or looking up at a clear starlit sky to see the constellations and then looking down to see a sprawling field full of fireflies ripe to stick in jar.
This has always been the balance of my soul. As I have gotten older and moved to the city, I have lost much of that balance. I still love to stand in my tiny back yard while my girlfriend gardens and breathe in the air. And then I like to go back inside and plop down on my sofa and play a couple hours of heart-racing excitement that only my Playstation 4 and 65 inch TV can provide me. The balancing of nature and technology is more American than we know.
But all of that might be over. Sony and Microsoft have both unveiled potential game changing tech advancements. The “Morpheus” and HoloLens are the new technological advances in Virtual Reality game playing. The new VR headsets will allow someone to experience gameplay in a whole new way. And these VR technologies hurt me in two ways. Firstly I feel the loss of community gameplay; the kind where we sit in a room together and laugh as we smash each other’s avatars or cooperate together to achieve some task. The second is our society’s move from organic community experiences to more isolated virtual ones.
As someone who does not play a lot of games with others anymore, this wouldn’t normally be a cause that I’d take up. But realistically nothing brought me more joy than experiencing the love of video games with friends. It taught me valuable life lessons on sharing and cooperation to reach a task, and it showed me, more importantly, that there are people out there who share your interests. You are not alone in the world, and there are people who enjoy what you enjoy and, maybe more, want to experience it with you. That was very important to me as a child, and I’d hate for anyone to lose that. My fear is that a VR headset secludes you into a world inside that headset. Gone will be two kids sitting on the floor playing together, and what will be replaced is two kids sitting on a floor inside helmets. The tech will now separate them instead of bonding them together for life.
But more importantly I’ve watched a generation of people leave the beauty of natural adventure for the simplicity of online culture. We have put machines between us. The natural connection that we had as animals grunting to each other was, once, has been replaced by language, as is the evolution of our species. But that language is increasingly being replaced by code. We have lost the art of a conversation, the simplicity of a handshake, and the connection of star gazing. We have allowed technology to change conversations to Reddit forums, handshakes to text, and star gazing to selfies of us star gazing. And now we want to change reality. We already live in a world tied to the wall by cords, and in a world where people kill themselves over the realization that reality will never be as bright or as easy as what is presented to us via our colossus that is media. We see films that present us all with happy endings that we now feel entitled to, and we see pageantry and splendor that can only be achieved through computer drawings that we feel depressed about because nature will never be as beautiful. We live in a time of Instagram to filter reality to make it more optically pleasing, or Periscope in order to live our lives through the eyes of the rich and famous, and internet guides on how to frame one’s self in order to make his or her user picture on Tinder more attractive. Tell me how Virtual Reality will make this all better?
Tell me how the idea of sitting in a room, alone even with company, strapped inside a computer where it is more beautiful than reality will make us better as a group. I fear for the revolution of this type of technology because I feel we are losing what made us Americans, and what made us human. Even as a man who has embraced the future, who actively pines for the warm glow of future tech, I still fear this world we are going towards.
I will not purchase a VR, but it isn’t about me. Even strapped in to a headset, I will still be able to unplug and enjoy my life. But unless we as a culture start to unplug our lives, we will all be tapped into something we might not be sure we want.