Virtual Reality and the Future of
Many of you might remember that
in the mid to late 90s there was a
fad. The concept was covered by such major magazines as
Time, Newsweek, and Playboy. Various TV shows of the time (most notably
and The X-Files
episodes that dealt with the subject.
There were even TV shows that were entirely based on the idea of
virtual reality, or VR, the miniseries Wild Palms
TV show VR.5
Naturally, there were movies which featured virtual
reality. Two of them were Strange Days and Virtuosity
Trilogy was among the films that grew out of this fad.
Virtual reality is not a term one hears very often any more. In fact,
it occurs to me that some people reading this might not even know what
it is. Quite simply, virtual reality is a technological means through
which an individual can interact with a simulated or imaginary (that
is, "virtual") environment. The origins of the phrase itself are murky,
with different individuals having been credited with coining it, but it
dates at least back to the 80s. The concept of virtual reality goes
back a bit farther than the term itself. Ray Bradbury described a
concept very close to virtual reality in his short story "The Veldt,"
published in 1951. That same decade filmmaker Morton Heilig described
an Experience Theatre which
would engage every single sense. He even
built a prototype in 1962 which he called Sensorama
In 1968 computer
programmer Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull built the first
or HMD (essentially a helmet that displays video
information right in front of the eyes). In 1977 MIT developed a 3D map
of Aspen, Colorado through which people could virtually wander the
streets of that city. All of these technologies, along with the wired
gloves and sometimes even bodysuits so identified with VR, would come
together to shape what people in the Nineties conceived of as virtual
So what does all of this have to do with MMOs? Well, hard as it may be
to believe, the term virtual reality was used to promote some 3D video
and computer games in the early 90s (Doom comes to mind). If first
person shooters can be considered VR, then MMOs certainly could be.
After all, the player interacts with an imaginary environment, although
that interaction is pretty much limited to visual (the game's graphics)
and auditory (the game's sounds). There are even other people (PCs and
NPCs) with whom individuals can interact in any given game's reality.
Of course, for many of us who've read the works of William Gibson and
Neal Stephenson, even the best MMOs fall short of what we think of as
virtual reality. That having been said, I have to wonder what the
future holds for MMOs. That is, will MMOs become full fledged VR games?
I certainly think it is possible, but I do think Virtual reality
MMORPGS or VRMMOs would be drastically different than the MMOs we know
and love today. Today's MMOs are played with a keyboard and a mouse,
and one generally does not have the point of view of his or her
character. A VRMMO would be played using a Head Mounted Display and
wired gloves. With the HDM the game would certainly be played from the
character's point of view. The character's movements would be dictated
by wired gloves, perhaps even a body suit. Quite simply, the player
would virtually be in the game.
Of course, many works from the subgenre of science fiction called
cyberpunk might offer a different solution to VRMMOs than the HDM and
wired gloves. In many of those works individuals are equipped with
implants which allow them to jack into a computer and hence into
Cyberspace (a term coined by William Gibson, by the way). Naturally, if
one could jack into Cyberspace, then one can jack into an MMO as well.
Another solution has been offered up by Sony itself. In 2005 Sony
patented an idea
for sending information directly to the human
This would allow the individual not only to see and hear things in
games, but to smell and feel them as well. The technique does not need
any implants or any other modifications to the human body. It would
rely entirely on a device which would use ultrasound to change the
firing patterns of neurons in the brain. At that time (and I would
suppose it is still true now) no experiments had been done using the
technique and it was entirely experimental.
It seems to me that all of these things are certainly possible, but
whether gamers would find them desirable is another question. I must
admit that I would not mind wearing an HDM and wired gloves to play in
a VRMMO. Of course, that is provided that the HDM did not weigh a ton
and a half and the gloves were fairly comfortable. But as fascinated as
I am by the idea of virtual reality, I am not sure that I would want an
implant placed in my brain through which I could jack into any
computer, nor would do I find Sony's idea of
directly to the brain very desirable either. Maybe I am old fashioned,
but I have the definite fear that my brain could somehow wind up
scrambled if something went wrong. Not to mention the fact that
computer viruses might be developed that could infect the human brain
(Mercurie wasn't paranoid schizophrenic before played VR-EQ 5...his
brain must have downloaded a virus!). Another concern I must admit
could come from watching too many episodes of The Prisoner and Nowhere
Man. If information can be transmitted directly to the brain (either
though an implant or through Sony's technique), can something that
overrides the individuals' wishes and desires be transmitted as well?
That is, could such things be used for mind control?
I will admit that much of this sounds crazy to me, someone who has read
too many cyberpunk novels and watched The Matrix Trilogy too many
times. But then if someone had told me in junior high that I would have
a computer in my own home, much less be able to communicate with other
people on that computer, I would have thought that crazy too. Too often
it seems that the future turns out far stranger than we ever imagined
Is VR in MMOs just science fiction, or
Do you want Sony messing with your brain's neurons? Hmmm!
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