Oculus Rift shows potential but only a glimpse of reality

Courtesy of Flickr
Courtesy of Flickr

The Oculus Rift (OR) is the newest major release of virtual reality technology to the public. For the modest price of $600 the OR could, quite literally, be a dream come true for many. Unfortunately, the Oculus Rift will just be an expensive beta test, and any beta test is sure to bring a heap of flaws and bugs to smooth out. So for now, the OR will be a pioneer for what amazing experiences virtual reality can offer people in the future.

What creator Palmer Luckey completed after four years of development looks akin to a massive pair of matte black ski goggles with headphones that fits over a wearer’s head. It operates through a PC, or rather a heavy gaming rig with lots of RAM and core power to function properly.

Once the Oculus Rift is functioning, the wearer is visually and audibly transported to another world. A hands-on review by CNET reporters Scott Stein and Sean Hollister describes, “My hands are in front of me. I can see them, but they’re metal, like crab claws. They’re guns…They change. But I can lift them, move them. Or am I just pushing buttons? Am I moving, or dreaming I’m moving? It becomes so seamless I can’t tell.”

Imagine how blissful it would be to actually feel like you are soaring through the sky by using a pair of wings that felt like they were attached to your back. Or perhaps the sensation of awe, as you sit in your fully immersive spaceship cockpit, staring into the vastness of space stretched out infinitely before you. The Oculus Rift is the first step toward achieving the full potential of virtual reality, but it still has a long way to go.

The system’s limits are easily noticeable, the first of which is it only immerses your sight and hearing, not smell or touch. Secondly, the graphic quality for any game designed for it thus far are still years away from actually fooling the user into thinking it is real life. When compared to the capacity of virtual reality in fiction, such as “The Matrix” or the anime series “Sword Art Online” the capabilities of the OR fall flat.

If virtual reality is total immersion of the senses into the virtual world, then the OR can hardly be called a virtual reality device.

However, there is great potential in gaming for the OR, primarily in the horror game genre. In a Let’s Play video (video game playthroughs with live commentary) by YouTube celebrity Markiplier, he records himself playing on the OR.

We see two viewpoints simultaneously: one screen shows him wearing the OR and the other shows the gameplay. At one point he hears something behind him and turns his head around to see glowing eyes staring at him in the darkness. Then, Markiplier yells out, “I can’t do it! I can’t. I am actually crying. I couldn’t do it,” and rips the OR off his head as he takes a moment to catch his breath.

While this is very funny to watch at first, it becomes apparent that he was genuinely frightened from something he experienced with the Oculus Rift.  While watching I could tell the monster in the game was not realistic at all and poorly modeled. Despite this, Markiplier reacted strongly to its presence. If he experienced real sensations of fear while playing on the OR, then virtual reality became reality for him. This demonstrates a step toward total immersion into the virtual world, and the true purpose of what a virtual reality device is for.

I recommend not rushing to buy the Oculus Rift with your tax refund. Instead, you should save up and let the technology develop a few more years. The difference between fictional ideas of virtual reality and the OR is colossal, and if you purchase the OR immediately, you are in for short-lived fun and long-term disappointment. However, with evidence like Markiplier’s true horror, the OR does show that virtual reality has potential and will surely evolve into something big.

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