A Mom’s Review of Virtual Reality Gaming with HTC Vive
To compensate for the loss of the fun and activities we had promised the kids, my husband took the plunge and purchased a virtual reality system. Since then, our family has dived deep into the immersive world of VR. I’ve found the experience to be more interesting that I would have guessed. So, I thought I’d share a mom’s review of virtual reality gaming using HTC Vive’s system with all of you.
To be honest, VR is something that you really need to experience yourself to understand. The combination of sensory inputs and our expectations create a one-of-a-kind experience for each user. Even watching the video play of someone else’s interaction did not prepare me for what it was like to be inside the experience. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to share what I’ve learned so far about virtual reality gaming.
First Impression of Virtual Reality Gaming Using the HTC Vive
The kids and my husband were the first to try out the new system and its games. My husband was in charge of setting everything up. This involved a physical set up and a technical one. Once everything is working properly, the player is closed off from the outside sights and sounds of reality. The headset and earbuds work with the VR programming to transport you to another world. My husband says he could almost feel the heat of the virtual shots whizzing by his head while playing one of the adventure games. I will admit to laughing out loud as I watched him scream and duck—presumably to avoid one of those shots.
After everyone else in the family had taken a few turns at interacting with this new device, I took a short spin myself. I placed the headset on, and my husband handed me the controllers. The pre-game display is a series of grid lines that mark the virtual boundaries. Then, my husband started up TheBlu, an undersea experience.
Within seconds, I was standing on the ocean floor. Fish darted around me and responded to my motions. A school of fish passed overhead, and a sea turtle drifted past. At the edge of my virtual world, there was a deep canyon. Despite knowing it was a simulation, I still hesitated to walk too near! Similar to other digital games, some parts of the virtual environment respond to your actions while other don’t. Part of the fun is in discovering each game’s unique response and boundaries.
A resource with huge potential
Of course, ever the mom and teacher, after observing the VR system in action, I immediately thought about how amazing it would be to use VR simulations for biology class. Students could observe and identify different species in their natural habitats. We could all become Osmosis Jones and explore the inner workings of the body on a cellular level! In other classes, students could perform chemical experiments or test physics formulas using a virtual lab. Driver’s education could include realistic scenarios to help new drivers learn to avoid accidents.
I am very interested in watching over the next several years as engineers and software developers work with content creators to make new and exciting adventures. My husband and I have already begun imagining the many possibilities that adding foot action and interactive-glove controllers to the system would bring. Using the existing handsets, you can already exercise Minority Report level control over your computer’s desktop apps. Between VR and 3D printers, we are ready for the tech industry to bring on the replicators and the holodecks!
A fun way to get your gamer moving
One of the first things I noticed as I watched my family test out the Vive system was that playing in VR is quite a workout. We already had a Wii U system, but not the peripherals that employ full body motions. The VR games that we’ve tried so far rely mostly on arm motions as well. The difference between the two systems is that with the VR, the motion component is more expansive. The players use their hands to move the handset and trigger events in the virtual environment. But, that environment extends in a full cube around the player. So, one moment you might reach down to open a bottom drawer to look for clues. The next moment, you might find yourself shooting at a drone above your head. Players can also turn and take a few steps in either direction while exploring the virtual space. I’ve also found that there are workout-themed games available for most of the VR systems.
I know that there’s plenty of other ways to get exercise. But not everyone can or wants to take advantage of those ways. Using the VR system could be a good way to get a reluctant exerciser moving. The extra gaming activity might even help build up their stamina so that real exercise becomes more attractive. None of us seemed to notice that we were getting a workout while we played. Though, my middle son did mention later that his feet hurt. He inherited my flat arches. I think we’ll need an anti-fatigue mat if he’s not going to wear good shoes while playing.
An amazing medium for creativity
My daughter is an artist. Her favorite VR program is Google’s Tilt Brush. I was able to observe her interactions with this program in real time through our Steam connection. But, my view was only a 2D representation of what she was experiencing. I took a few screen shots of her artwork while she experimented with the various features of the Tilt Brush app. She was able to paint using different brushes, textures, and colors. She could also add flashes of light, different backgrounds, and animations. It was fascinating to watch from the outside. Later, when I used the VR headset, I could see the environment she created from the inside. I could walk under the tree she drew and look up toward the Milky Way background she chose.
One of my sons and my daughter have been working together to create digital games. He is learning the coding while she provides the artwork. I can only imagine what they’ll come up with in a few years when they learn how to make her 3D art interactive in virtual reality. For makers and builders, the 3D virtual environment means they can see their designs from all angles before they build. Budding fashion designers will find plenty of uses for this new medium, too.
A great escape for kids who need one
Over the years, I’ve noticed that my non-neuro typical kids need time to lock out the world. Well, we all need peace and quiet sometimes. It’s just that for some of us, closing out the world is harder than for others. The VR set allows anyone to step away from their environment and into a different space. The kids enjoy exploring the virtual environment at their own pace. They will open drawers in the virtual lab, or draw pictures using the Tilt Brush program. They aren’t necessarily interested in playing a non-stop shooter game. Instead, they just enjoy being alone. In a household with six people and one very entitled rabbit, having time alone is s real prize!
Future VR applications might include programs being used to practice problem-solving and social skills. In an interview for Speaking of Psychology, a podcast hosted by the American Psychological Association, Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Ph.D., director for medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, discussed several of the ways VR is influencing the practice of psychology already. One of the primary uses of the technology is in exposure therapy. But VR is can also be used for pain management, assessment, and evaluation. Using virtual reality, a student might practice social skills with virtual students before trying them out in a real classroom.
Some Real Concerns about Virtual Reality
Virtual reality devices have the power to change how we learn, create and interact. But, I know many of you are probably concerned about the negative implications as well. I can understand your concerns. However, even if you aren’t someone who is eager to embrace this latest technological fad, I would encourage you to learn about it. An understanding of the good and the bad, and how your children might expect to use these devices in the future will help you to guide them wisely.
Is virtual reality gameplay addictive?
A lot of people believe video games are addictive. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) suggests that internet gaming disorder should be considered for inclusion as an identifiable condition in future editions. I think that gaming or internet use can be as addictive. However, whether or not a specific activity will be addictive for a particular individual is a matter of nature and nurture.
My husband and I have limited games and other media use by our children on a case by case basis. But, we have not faced a situation where a child tried to bypass our limits to play digital games. I am aware that other families have different experiences. I’ve read stories from other families describing the way in which the desire to escape or the endorphins from gaming victories has overwhelmed their child’s self-control. I have no doubt that VR games could be highly addictive to kids or adults who were susceptible. The ability to fully immerse yourself in a fantasy world that you help create—who doesn’t want to do that now and then?
My recommendation for anyone concerned about the addictive qualities of VR is that you consider your family culture and your children’s strengths and weaknesses when deciding whether to include this technology in your life.
If you’d like to learn more about internet addiction, and gaming addiction, in particular, the World Journal of Psychiatry published a survey of recent studies on the topic in March of 2016. In the article titled, Internet addiction and problematic Internet use: A systematic review of clinical research, you’ll find a review of recent studies on the topic and references to specific studies to assist you in assessing the risks of modern internet usage.
Is using the VR headset going to mess up your vision?
The answer to this question seems to be that it is too soon to tell. The way a person sees when wearing the VR headset is different than seeing in a natural environment. So far, it seems that once the headset is removed, a person’s eyes readjust. But, since none of us have been using VR to the extent that it may be employed in the future—both for leisure and work—there is still much to be learned. This is true of any new technology. We play at our own risk.
What kind of space do you need for VR?
Answers to this question will vary depending on the system you are using. A standing-only system will need less space than a full 360-degree experience. You should try to have at least a six foot by six-foot zone of clear floor space for your VR set up. But, the zone doesn’t have to be clear all the time. When you aren’t playing, furniture can be moved back into your VR zone. You might be able to make do with less if most of your players will be small. Because a VR system incorporates 360-degree motion, you’ll need to consider the height of your space as well. My six-foot-plus husband has to take care not to hit our ceiling light when he is using the VR system. Remember, anyone using the system will have a hard plastic controller in hand, too.
Wherever you set up your virtual reality playing zone, you’ll need a clear ‘line of sight’ for the system’s wall-mounted base stations. These stations track your motion and relay data. Also, your headset will have a wire connecting it to your PC. I’ve not noticed any of the players in our house tripping over this cord yet, but it is a risk. I would like to see this wire swivel-mounted from the ceiling. But, we’ve only had the device for a week. Full room customization will have to wait.
Finally, keep in mind that the person playing won’t be able to see or hear people walking around. He or she also may not realize where they are physically in the room. So, set up the virtual boundaries away from furniture. You can also set up physical boundaries to keep players from walking into the furniture. Instruct non-players not to walk through the play zone and try to keep pets from darting underfoot. (Be sure to lock up naughty pet bunnies who like to try to trip people.)
Final Thoughts after Our Family’s First Week of Virtual Reality
I hope you’ve found this article about our experiences with the HTC Vive informative. I wasn’t involved in any of the actual set up of the system. My husband was in charge of selection and installation. I know you’ll need a powerful computer to run the VR programs. My husband had to replace a wire to get the sound component of our headset to work. If it had been a more involved fix, he would have had to return the unit. Instead, it just required a trip to an electronics store. I’m hoping he’ll provide more details and images from his point of view on his blog. He can share the setup details and general operating instructions. If you have a specific question you’d like him to answer, drop us a line. I’ll see if I can convince him to include it in his article.
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