If regular gaming is a ready meal, VR is a fancy date-night dinner

There’s been lots of talk about VR in the Sony camp recently, what with teases for PSVR2 and a roll call of new VR games headed our way in the next year. And I’ve also been playing a lot more VR myself recently, chiefly thanks to the brilliance of Star Wars Squadrons. That game not only plays wonderfully in VR, it’s also encouraged me to seek out much needed gaming sessions with distant friends – friends who I haven’t seen for well over a year thanks to this god-awful pandemic.

I also downloaded Beat Saber last weekend, which is PHENOMENAL, and it has finally giving me the push to do some home exercise. Half an hour of swiping through songs on Hard mode leaves me in a sweaty mess, exhausted but delighted. Ring Fit Adventure was fun but quickly became tiresome, whereas I can see myself bopping away to tunes in Beat Saber for months, if not years. It’s exercise stealthily dressed up as a future disco in your head, and I’m all for it.

I’m not the only one who has been retreating into VR in the wake of pandemic-induced misery: the VR sector saw big growth in 2020, especially with the launch of Oculus Quest 2. But even then, the household penetration (oop, pardon) of VR is still tiny at just 1.2%, with forecasts of a rise to 3% by 2025. In other words, VR will remain niche for a long time to come – and perhaps for always.

I love playing games in VR – but then again I don’t want to play in VR all the time. For example, I’ve been playing Hitman 3 almost non-stop for the last month, and I haven’t even tried its VR mode yet. VR can be exhausting and tiresome to set up, and there are all sorts of reasons why I might not strap on a headset of an evening, from tired, screen-strained eyes to just being too damn hot.

There’s also the fact that not all games work that well in VR. It’s absolutely amazing for space shooters like Star Wars Squadrons and Elite Dangerous, where you’re sat in a cockpit and VR lets you look around at what’s going happening in every direction. And there are some wonderful bespoke experiences like Beat Saber and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes that could only really be done in VR, and hence are very special indeed. It’s also good at doing horror, although I must admit that I’m far too lily-livered to explore this particular sector. An hour of Resident Evil VII was about all I could stomach before ripping off the headset in a panic.

But most games wouldn’t really benefit from a transition to VR, and anything with fast-paced, runny-around action is just a recipe for motion sickness. That’s fine though – VR is for special occasions.

If nightly grinding sessions of something like Destiny 2 are your regular ready meals, then a few hours of indulgence in VR is the meal you bought special ingredients for from that fancy delicatessen. It’s full immersion in measured doses, a treat you look forward to. Partly that’s down to the faff of setting it up – adjusting cameras, headsets, and so on, not to mention digging out and charging controllers. This will get easier with time as the technology improves with things like inside-out tracking, but putting on a headset and clearing the room will always be more of a chore than simply sitting down and turning on the TV.

Then again, I think the big future of VR will be less about gaming and more about work. The pandemic has shown a need for people to keep in touch and collaborate over long distances. Remote working looks set to stay for many people, and concerns over climate change will mean companies start to cut down unnecessary travel. Maybe VR conference calls will become the norm, and facility tours will soon be conducted in VR as a matter of course – VR home viewings are already growing in popularity as a result of the coronavirus.

VR won’t take over the world anytime soon, but it’s set to become an increasingly important niche concern.

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