In 2005, a man by the name of Lee Seop suffered a fatal heart attack in South Korea after playing video games for over fifty-consecutive hours in an internet cafe.
Though this was not the first instance of a gaming-addiction-related-death, reading this article sparked a solemn realization – if this scenario is occurring with conventional, two-dimensional flat monitors, what will happen when we inevitably have access to hardware which makes the game indistinguishable from reality?
This event became part of the catalyst that ultimately led to the creation of Ctrl V, North America’s first Virtual Reality arcade in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
In January 2016, we began conceptualizing what Ctrl V would look like and how it would operate. Our discussion and ideas ventured into the potential future for this type of concept. Technology was evolving at the fastest rate in history, and we knew this meant there would be a limited life-span for the first iteration of our VR arcade concept.
VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive paved the way for our original concept. They were the peak of commercially available VR technology, but still presented limitations to the average customer. Both relied on a tethered solution to provide video, power, and tracking. This meant a play space with a maximum radius and also a constant reminder that you are connected to reality (which for most users, opposed their expectations).
The flip side, and also a detriment, was that room-scale VR required exactly that – a room. Both leading headsets required a dedicated space for each user, free from obstacles, pets, breakables and other people. Vive had a helpful solution in their integrated “Chaperone” system, providing an in-headset grid which became visible as you approached the boundaries of your pre-traced play space.
These two restrictive conditions contributed to a much slower adoption of these headsets, but perfectly paved the way for a concept like Ctrl V. We could offer solutions to both the tethering and dedicated play space, and also enable users to engage in VR play with their friends and family. The fact that the hardware was also dependent on high-performance PCs and expensive in their own right was a bonus issue Ctrl V was able to address.
Fast-forward to January, 2018, and VR technology has still not significantly evolved or become mainstream. A number of prototype hardware accessories have been developed to address some of the outstanding limitations of VR, including omni-directional treadmills, haptic gloves, vests and full-body suits, tracked handhelds (bows, guns, swords, etc.) and even smell- and temperature-emitters.
We will discuss the various issues for each of the above with regards to the commercial space in the next topic, but for the purposes of this context – all VR peripherals fall into a defined limit where they inevitably become completely impractical and reverse their intended purpose of enhancing the immersion.
Most require additional power sources and connectivity (either wired or wireless, the latter of which can experience significant interference in a shared space). All of them require additional know-how from the user and facility staff, additional time to get in and out of the experience, and integration support from the VR content development industry. Most impactful though is the hygiene aspect – every effective peripheral requires direct contact with the user’s body. Herein lies the biggest obstacles for a commercial VR facility.
Affordable commercial VR depends on technology and processes which can be easily scaled. Maintaining an immersive experience will depend on peripherals which add external immersion (not attached to the user). That is of course, until the Matrix becomes reality.