Why virtual reality is about more than gaming, and your mom will love it


Are you staring the future of gaming in the face? VR kit like Sony's Morpheus needs to grab attention outside the gaming hardcore to succeed

PG Virtual Reality

"if Sony wants to include 'everyone' in the Morpheus VR experience, then traditional marketing just isn't going to work."

But I digress. The important point to note is that if Sony wants to include 'everyone' in the Morpheus VR experience, traditional marketing isn't going to work.

Show a shooter running in a VR array to a gamer, and they'll appreciate a new way to do that thing they like to do. Show it to someone outside the bubble, however, and they'll see content they were previously uncomfortable with, presented in an even more grating, under-the-skin medium.

The "Saga generation" needs to know that there are games like The Witness out there; games like Ether One (which releases today). They have to be made aware that opportunities for experiences with puzzle elements also exist which aren't violently adversarial.

These aren't household title names of course, and that's a problem. Does Morpheus encourage the gray dollar contingent to investigate deeper into the current games market? And what does this powerful demographic hope to find there?

"The kind of fantasy that would appeal to us - women in my demographic aren't going to be drawn in by mutilating zombies and things - is a peaceful quiet place full of beautiful things, beautiful music.

"We're generally very busy. When we do have time for ourselves, we just want to escape. We want to switch off completely from the real world."

She pauses momentarily to chide me for pressing the buttons on the keyboard too hard as I type over speaker phone: "You'll get arthritis."

Again, our aspirations for the tech match up: like many gamers, I want something more than Battlefield 5: Tilty Headcam Edition. The idea of a beautiful place I can escape to sounds great. An all-encompassing Proteus. So does it have to be a game we're experiencing inside Morpheus, I ask, or just a place?

"I'm drawn to both. Sometimes you want something to grab you, so you can really forget your problems. Something with a sense of competition or discovery. I've played the Enchantia titles a lot lately on Big Fish Games. You have to find hidden objects and piece things together. That's very absorbing."

morpheus VR

Sony's Morpheus headset uses PlayStation Move to create an immersive spatial environment - and it says games are just one application for the tech

Neo gaming

To attract the Saga generation, Morpheus needs to put violence in the backseat and create experiences foremost, games second. We've learned that much from this highly scientific research study. But can Morpheus truly have the impact on the Great British living room that the Wii once had?

I wonder what attracted my dear mother to the strange new world of Nintendo when its magic white box first appeared.

"Firstly, [using the Wii controller] is more immersive. If you're just controlling a mouse, you don't feel like you're actually participating, it's more like you're just observing.

"But it also personalizes your game. It's controlled by your body movements, and you're represented by your Mii. It's transporting you to a different place and an idealized form of you."

None of what my mom tells me during our ultra-professional phone interview is massively out of whack with the views I've heard from people who have worked in the games media for a decade or more. Apart from the 'typing too hard gives you arthritis' thing.

It's especially chilling to hear my colleagues' sentiments mirrored almost word-for-word when the issue of pricing is raised:

"I can see that it's quite an advanced piece of gaming gear, so it's tricky. But to be honest, in the real world I don't think you'd want to pay more than $100 for it.

"It would depend on how many games were available for it. If there were tons of games available, you'd be more inclined to invest in it. It'd be more like buying a television or something."


What does it all mean, though? Why have I forced you to read through a chat with my old ma?

Because it revealed that the impossible-to-harness, gaming gray dollar feels a lot like the hardcore gamer does towards Morpheus.

For example, almost exactly ten years ago, former PC Gamer writer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun co-founder Kieron Gillen wrote a manifesto called The New Games Journalism. In it, he demanded that games writing should be "travel journalism to an imaginary place."

More recently, games writer Andy Kelly (Ultrabrilliant) created Other Places (see the video of DayZ's Chernarus above), a blog featuring videos that stripped away all the systems, actions and inhabitants of video game worlds and in the newfound space, let you appreciate the geography of the environment. It's been featured by Buzzfeed, the BBC and others.

These two experienced games analysts and my Wii-Fit-addict mother are all in agreement - the really exciting thing about video games is the possibility of exploring an imaginary place, and VR's killer feature - as Sony states - is the chance to be present in it as never before.

What my esteemed interviewee is really calling for is a radically different approach to game design, one that's bespoke for VR.

With so many publishers sweating about return on investment in the VR marketplace, it's unlikely we'll see that for some years yet. But it's at least encouraging that many of us are on the same page.

Phil Iwaniuk is games editor at Official PlayStation Magazine. After giving a voice to an oft-ignored gaming demographic, he's already done his Mother's Day bit and can ditch the card-giving stuff. Er, right?

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Phil Iwaniuk

Ad creative by day, wandering mystic of 90s gaming folklore by moonlight, freelance contributor Phil started writing about games during the late Byzantine Empire era. Since then he’s picked up bylines for The Guardian, Rolling Stone, IGN, USA Today, Eurogamer, PC Gamer, VG247, Edge, Gazetta Dello Sport, Computerbild, Rock Paper Shotgun, Official PlayStation Magazine, Official Xbox Magaine, CVG, Games Master, TrustedReviews, Green Man Gaming, and a few others but he doesn’t want to bore you with too many. Won a GMA once.