“Stan! You’ve been on your computer all weekend. Shouldn’t you go out and socialize with your friends?”
“I am socializing R-tard! I’m logged on to an MMORPG with people from all over the world and getting XP with my party using team speak.”
If you’ve been paying attention, social media is the new big thing. From Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn, to name a few, the idea of meeting people online that you’ve never met before and probably will never actually meet face to face in the real world is BIG! I remember watching South Park–quoted above–and seeing the kids playing Warcraft, and thinking…”That is HUGE!” Real people from all over the world and from every walk of life, joining together to play a somewhat immersive video game. If you ever played an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), imagine playing the next generation of MMORPGs while seeming to actually be in the game!
Rumors are flying regarding the eventual Microsoft virtual reality helmet. They actually already have a product demo called a HoloLens. If you watch their video—which was a little slow to load—you won’t be able to not be impressed. We can expect to see the same kind of innovation in their upcoming VR helmet, too.
There are at least two possible ways that users might be able to interact with both the software and other real persons using similar gear. The first way is what you saw if you watched the HoloLens video: real world visions of people and objects actually surrounding you, combined with holographic virtual objects and even holographic people digitally rendered using the helmet. I suspect, however, that it’s much more likely that the new VR helmet will instead be completely immersive. Both video and sound will come solely from the helmet and not from a person’s actual surroundings. In a perfect world, it would be able to do both.
VR headsets and helmets promise to be disruptive technologies. By disruptive, I mean that whole industries that exist today will not be able to compete in our free-wheeling capitalist economy with the power the next-generation technology that VR helmets represent. I’ll take a few real world examples and use them to explain.
Lots of people have been to a casino. I’ve been and perhaps you have, too. I played slots but never the table games, as they were just too intimidating for me. It is possible casinos have tables for n00bs like me, but I never actually saw any tables with signs that said “n00bs sit here.” Take blackjack for example I didn’t know the rules or the strategy; however, virtual casinos could make it easy to learn while never leaving my comfort zone. For this reason, immersive virtual reality casinos with real players sitting on their sofas while at the same time seeming to sit at a virtual table, using virtual cards and a virtual dealer, would be so disruptive to the brick and mortar casino industry as a whole that it might just convert everyone to use online casinos.
Look at the advantages. Right off the bat, the online casino doesn’t need a building. It doesn’t need dealers. It doesn’t need cashiers, waitresses, bartenders, security guards, cameras … and the list goes on. Today, just with computer monitors, we already see that online gambling is growing quite rapidly. Now, imagine that you get all the excitement of a real casino, complete with some inconsiderate fat guy smoking a big stogie across the table…but guess what? Now you don’t have to smell his smoke! Chatting back and forth in real time, seeming to actually be sitting at a poker table with your fellow players, hearing their voices, maybe even seeing their virtual faces would be as good as the real thing, maybe better. Because online casino costs would be much lower than brick and mortar casinos, because they could potentially entice customers from around the world causing an order of magnitude increase in patronage, and because they wouldn’t have to hand out all those free drinks, they could potentially return a much higher percentage of the wagers to the players, and still turn a tidy profit.
I’ve always loved video games. I grew up in an era where at first there weren’t any video games. It was pinball, skeeball, and the game where you drop the penny and hope it bounces off the right pegs to get it in the right slot. Fun times. Not!
It wasn’t too long however before I saw our local arcade get its first video game. It was called Space Invaders and I loved it! Next came Asteroids and Pac Man. My only problem was not enough pennies! I remember well when the Atari 2600 came out. The games weren’t as good as real arcade games, but the great thing was that you could play them forever without a single penny. I played a game called Adventure, created by Walter Robinett. The game was really fun, but it completely blew my mind when I found out about the black dot, and carried it into the special room, which opened up a secret room that contained the world’s first Easter Egg.
Today’s video games still blow my mind. They just keep getting better. I never have mastered the complicated video gaming handset with all those buttons, but I still dabble. Obviously, VR helmets—and the electronic gloves, which would eventually accompany such a device—are purpose made for video gaming. From first person shooters, to immersive Warcraft style games, to sports games; the level of…well let’s just say it…fun!…would skyrocket. Plus, maybe we could finally ditch those over-buttoned handsets!
There will come a day and that’s soon, when parents simply won’t trust schools to properly take care of their children. I invite you to imagine a virtual classroom. All the social interaction, combined with interactive teaching using the full power of a Virtual Reality helmet. Walk your students through the Parthenon, have them board a Viking ship and see what it’s like to row. Load tutor wizards to explain puzzling or tricky math problems that a few students don’t seem to grasp. All this and much, much more.
The possibilities for uses of virtual reality are both infinite and incredibly exciting. We do live in an exciting time. I can’t wait to see what Microsoft comes up with. How about you?