Anime fans will be familiar with the concept of virtual reality MMOs. Series like hack and Sword Art Online paint a world where anyone can put on a visor and immerse themselves in a totally digital world. A couple years back, this may have been pure fantasy, but with the creation of the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus, VR is becoming more and more real by the day. But will MMOs ever really take the step into the world of virtual reality.
There are a couple roadblocks preventing this from happen. First of all, MMOs are not a particularly active genre of game. By that I mean characters and enemies don’t really respond to each other in real time. Numbers go up and go down, but usually this involves a group of people standing around an enemy and spamming skills, rather than ducking and dodging and avoiding enemy attacks.
On one hand, this would make it seem as if MMOs are a perfect choice for the VR world. It’s not easy for a VR game to simulate a lot of movement. This can cause motion sickness and a huge disconnect from the game world.
However, the style of gameplay that an MMO offers also might not be the best for a VR world. Considering most characters simply run up to an enemy and spam attacks, all you would see in front of you is a close up of the enemy you are fighting. In fact, it would probably make it even harder to see when the enemy was winding up to use powerful attacks that you’d have to use shield spells or other techniques to avoid.
This brings up another problem. Most MMOs actually cause you to focus more on the outside of the screen than on the action itself. You are constantly keeping track of your teammate’s life, your own life, your mana, your skill cooldowns, your items, and more. It might not be the easiest thing to do with a VR visor on. Sure, the same info could be places around the edges of the screen, but not only would that break immersion, it would be more difficult to keep track of from close up.
In these “MMO turned real” animes, MMO players are using some sort of weird neural interface to dive into their games. Unfortunately, we are a long way off from that sort of technology. Even if we did allow someone to have a full motion controlled setup featuring a Oculus Rift, Virtuix Omni treadmill, and much more, movement would still be restricted. You couldn’t sit or jump or do any of the things a lot of MMO characters do. You’d simply walk, use a motion to activate a skill, and do the same thing all over again.
So perhaps we aren’t quite ready for MMOs to venture into the world of VR just yet, but that’s OK. People who play MMOs and people who play VR games are kind of looking for two different things anyway. Immersion was never the core gameplay feature of an MMO. It was the social connections, the feel of building a character, and the ability to be part of something bigger than yourself that made this game genre flourish.
Former Contributing Writer