[Editorial Tuesday] How Can VR Evolve?

Science Fiction Becoming Science Fact

Legendary Sci-Fi author Arthur C. Clarke once stated that science fiction paves the way for science fact. In his interviews and in his novels, he predicted the advent of e-mail, video communication, and smartwatches. In fact, he also predicted the coming of video games and virtual reality in his 1953 novel, Childhood’s End, his reaction to when television was becoming popular and progressively available in homes of first world countries.

For almost two decades, pop culture has depicted virtual reality as the next stage of human’s interaction with technology. Some notable movies that helped popularize the dream of VR in the 1990s in the West are Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves, and Disclosure co-starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. While it was a pop culture dream for the longest time, VR headsets such as the PSVR, the Oculus Rift, and the HTC Vive, have finally been released to public retailers for modern consumers to enjoy.

Although VR minimally existed during earlier times, the technology wasn’t that advanced to create the proper immersing experience we have today. In addition, releasing any form of VR 20 years ago would have been 20 times more expensive as it is now (and probably 35 times more if you want to adjust for inflation)! So what potential does it have? Read today’s Editorial Tuesday to find out!

Virtual Reality for Gaming

The thing about games is that they allow players to project themselves to the character they control. VR is simply the next phase in that evolution for gaming. Naturally, the best way to get consumers interested in VR is through games. This form of marketing takes influence from the philosophy of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who felt that if the first home computers needed to succeed, it had to include games so normal folks would be curious about them as opposed to fearing them.

Thankfully, some of the sensors that come with VR headsets not only allow you to look around you but allow some actual simulated movement inside the VR world as the user physically moves. One game that allows 100% movement in wide spaces is an arcade version of Mortal Blitz where you go around and shoot monsters. Or when you play a boxing game on VR, you can stick and move like a real boxer as you throw punches with the motion controllers. So VR doesn’t exclusively allow you to put a helmet on to see a new world while sitting down, with the right set up, it can be a potential work out as well.

What Games Can Work Best With VR

It is conclusively obvious that any game that has a first person view works best with VR. For a significant number of Western gamers, first-person shooters are the first to come to mind. As opposed to using a keyboard and mouse, players can use the motion controllers with a prop that simulates an actual firearm, and players can feel like they are either fighting dinosaurs in the jungle or trying to contain some monster outbreak in space. As stated earlier, the best experience for this is a version of Mortal Blitz that you can play in some arcades like at Sega World in Akihabara allow you to move around the stage thanks to motion sensors that create the stage. While some games have allowed some form of physical movement the past fifteen years such as with Dance Dance Revolution, certain VR games can now allow room space to be simulated as the VR world through such motion sensors.

Another first-person game that was one of the first to fully utilize the novelty of VR is Resident Evil 7. While it is not a traditional first-person shooter, it is a game that allows the player to explore a haunted house and find clues as if they are actually in the house itself. The great thing about today’s VR games such as Resident Evil 7 is that if you move your head, the screen moves with you. So if you look up, the screen doesn’t stay stationary to what’s in front of the character you play as but will face towards the ceiling.

Another type of first-person game that can work as a great gateway to VR is, of course, racing games or any type of game that involves driving. Gran Turismo Sport for the PS4 can exploit this feature to its fullest potential and if you can get yourselves the racing wheel and set your home furniture up like an actual car, you can feel as if you are actually in Monaco while driving an F-1 race car. However, as the technology continues to find its place in gaming and society, its contributions will eventually gain recognition. But if any of you loyal Honey readers find yourself in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, they do have a VR arcade called VR Zone Shinjuku to play a VR version of Mario Kart.

In addition to Mario Kart, another notable game you can play at VR Zone is trying to save a cat from a high-rise building while walking a plank. The area will do everything it can to simulate the actual conditions including having fans for wind effect. In fact, there are some videos on YouTube that feature this respective game. And if there is one game that we have to recommend while you visit VR Zone, it would certainly be the Dragon Ball Z game that allows you to throw ki blasts as if you have a power level that is over 9,000!!!!

For some of you mech heads, there are VR experiences for Evangelion, Gundam, and Votoms. In Evangelion Throne of Souls, you get to experience an angel attack in Tokyo-3. Not only are the environments and cockpits simulated, the game also takes into account the LCL immersion and your sync ratio with your unit like in the anime! For those of you familiar with the classic Votoms anime, you already know that the helmets inside the mechs were heavily emphasized.

Thankfully, today’s VR technology capitalizes on that novelty as you take part in mech duels. So just about anything is potentially possible with virtual reality. Maybe for those that can’t afford VR for their homes, hopefully, many countries can bring back arcades through VR and that can help contribute to gaming.

Health and Educational Benefits of VR

While VR games can be fun, what if the technology can be applied in a more educational setting? In addition to playing a game taking out Nazis under heavy and intense gunfire, what if VR can be used in a history class to teach about World War II? It gives students a more emotional first-hand perspective of the events and stimulates learning. One great example of this is the Battleship Mikasa Museum in Yokosuka, which is south of Yokohama. Inside the museum, it has a VR exhibit where you can see an actual simulation of one of the sea battles during the Russo-Japanese War at the start of the twentieth century.

What else is possible? What about a virtual re-telling of the assassination of Julius Caesar? Or how about the signing of the US Declaration of Independence? Maybe we can travel to the end of World War I and witness the signing of the Treaty of Versailles?

In addition to seeing famous events, VR can also take us to many famous cities or landmarks. Someone in the countryside of France can experience New York City or someone in Boise, Idaho can see the Eiffel Tower. Shenmue and Yakuza do an excellent job of giving players a taste of Japan in their own ways and VR can certainly further enhance that experience. Possibilities in the educational field are endless. Heck, it is even being used to train doctors!

Without a doubt, VR would most certainly benefit for individuals with special needs or other kinds of developmental conditions, especially for those on the autism spectrum. Just like how tablet technology has paved way for people with autism or any condition that affects people verbally have managed to find ways to effectively communicate and express themselves, what can VR do for them? It can simulate actual real-life situations such as job interviews, grocery shopping, and many kinds of everyday life tasks so they can apply those skills in the real world. For those that are wheelchair users, there can use VR as practice therapies on navigating obstacles. So there is more to VR than just having fun and playing games. To some people, VR is probably their only opportunity to do something they can’t normally do.

A few years ago, neurological researchers at UCLA studied the effects of VR on the brain. The results were obvious that the brain chemistry does change but in what way? The main focus of the study is how it affected the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is vulnerable to neurological diseases. The hippocampus allows humans to create our sense of direction, which was used in the research. Initially, a group of lab rats were put in a simulated environment to navigate with the absence of smell and sound. Of course, the study concluded that the neurons in the hippocampus reacted differently despite being able to successfully navigate the virtual world.

Another part of the study is how the neurons communicate using rhythm and intensity as an internal language in the brain. In the study, it was observed that the rhythm part in VR is the same as it is in the real world, but it disrupts the intensity language. Rhythm language is considered significant in forming memories so researchers feel that with VR, they can understand how to simulate that part of the brain to treat common neurological conditions.

Other Entertainment Value

Sometimes VR can be used as a passive form of entertainment as well. Has the thought of reading manga in VR ever crossed your mind? At the 2016 Tokyo Game Show, Square Enix presented Project Hikari, a VR manga. As the viewer reads the manga, the dialog is read aloud to them and the viewer can enlarge or shrink the panels, which are presented in 3D. As for watching anime itself, while you can watch your favorite anime through present VR headsets when properly set up, but for anime that is intended for the format, that probably won’t be for a while. Netflix does have an app that does accompany VR and let's hope in the future that studios can hopefully create anime that are suitable for it. Romance? Mech? Action? Give it to us! However, VR Zone Shinjuku does have a VR show of the Gundam Unicorn that you can enjoy as if you’re in the middle of a mech battle.

Anime and manga in VR would be great, but maybe in the future, we can also watch sports events in VR. Maybe in the helmets of football players, there can be cameras for us to watch some of the action first hand. Or in a combat sport, the referee can have a camera headset to give us a live feed of what he or she sees. At this point, the sky's the limit for virtual reality. Heck, there are even places in Japan you can even watch pornography in VR!

Final Thoughts

Upon uploading of this Editorial Tuesday, VR has only reached a small fraction of its potential. As shared in this Editorial Tuesday, gaming isn’t the only beneficiary to virtual reality but can be of great service to the education, military, and medical fields. It took videogames 30 years to get to where it is today, so VR is soon going to have its time to represent the next stage in technological evolution on just about every scale we can imagine. It will eventually come to a point where it may take over our lives. Look at what smartphone and tablet technology has affected almost everything in our society. VR itself potentially has that same effect. But with benefits, there could be consequences or maybe some of us have been watching too many movies.

What if our bodies just remain in some sort of slumber as we control robot bodies through VR? What if North Korea wants to use it for their nuclear program like how Saddam Hussein wanted PS2s back in 2000 for his weapons program?

That could be a possibility that citizens and governments have to be open to. While we can enjoy VR beyond gaming, we have to use it in a responsible and appreciative manner and be mindful that while they can be fun, they can help improve lives and hopefully society.

Arthur-C-Clarke-2001-The-Space-Odyssey-310x500 [Editorial Tuesday] How Can VR Evolve?


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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