VR stands for Virtual Reality and offers players of video-games a first person perspective on the game world viewed through VR Goggles. There are a number of different options with various benefits and experiences.
The Oculus Rift, Gear VR, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are the main options. Each of these options delivers a different level of experience and has different games so it is important to research the products before making a purchase.
They also each rely on different technology to drive them. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require a high powered PC, PlayStation VR requires a PlayStation 4 and Gear VR works with high end Android smartphones. This needs to be factored in to comparisons of cost and suitability for your family.
Google Cardboard is a cheaper VR option. It was developed by Google and named for its cardboard viewer. A smartphone is placed in the viewer and apps provide VR content viewed through the lenses. The new Mattel View Master uses this technology and expands the experience with interactive content.
The games differ system by system, both what is on offer and the visual fidelity. For families there are a range of engaging, educational and entertaining titles on all the systems. If there is a particular game you want to play it’s important to check which systems supports it before making a purchase. Here are a sample of VR games good for families:
Ocean Rift – Gear VR
This invites players to explore the wide open ocean with all sorts of marine life to explore.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – PSVR, Gear VR
This is a bomb diffuse game with a difference. Players in the room and with the headset on must communicate to tell each other what they see. Then the players in the room have to use an on-screen manual to describe how to diffuse the bomb.
Windlands – Oculous Rift, PSVR
Windlands offers an immersive VR experience where players traverse a fantasy landscape leaping huge heights with the help of grappling hooks to swing across canyons. All the time they are learning more about the land they are exploring and piecing together a puzzle.
Titans of Space – Oculus
Great for players of all ages. It a sense of scale and perspective about the solar system from both an educational and entertainment perspective. It’s only ten minutes in total but demonstrates the wider uses of VR.
Lucky’s Tale – Oculus Rift
Lucky’s Tale is a platforming adventure game exclusive for the Oculus Rift. It’s a light and easy way into VR, although not as ambitious as some other titles. Help Lucky run, jump, climb and spin his way through a colourful world.
VR Health & Safety
As with any new technology VR gaming introduces new concerns as well as opportunities. Provided the guidance is followed however, VR experiences can be a positive and engaging part of family life.
VR headsets have a recommended age limit. Oculus Rift and Gear VR headset have a 13+ age rating while Sony’s PlayStation VR is for children 12 and over. HTC doesn’t specify an age limit but it suggests young children shouldn’t use the product. Although exact advice varies the Oculus guide references that “younger children are in a critical period in visual development”.
As with any video-game it’s important to try them out before other members of the family play them. Some VR setups like the PlayStation VR let you see what the player is seeing on the TV screen. This is useful to ensure you are aware of the content they are experiencing. It’s worth testing the setup out yourself first to ensure it’s correctly calibrated, comfortable and volume levels are reasonable.
Ensure the headsets are correctly fitted to younger family members who are using the device. It’s also important to ensure that any cables and furniture are not in the way of players to avoid a trip or bump hazard.
Other video-game advice around taking breaks (at least 5 minutes for every 45 minutes of play) also apply. It can be a good idea to try the VR experience out in shorter periods to begin with while you acclimatise. Some players find initial feelings of slight nausea but as stated in the PSVR guide, “in many cases, initial discomfort experienced can fade as you acclimate to VR gameplay”.
PEGI ratings apply to VR Games in the same way as games you play on tablet and console screens without headsets. A GRA spokesperson stated that, “at present, the PEGI ratings continue to reflect content issues rather than issues set around technological improvement in gaming hardware”.
In the same way that ratings for 3D content are the same as 2D versions of games, PEGI ratings for VR titles apply the same questions and signifiers as their non-VR counterparts. Games that are only available for VR systems will be rated on the basis of their visual and audio content.
Many VR games also include a social and online interaction. This enhances the experience and enables more people to collaborate in the game. Parents should be mindful of this aspect of game-play as they would other online games
One example of this is Rec Room on the HTC Viva. This includes an online multiplayer mode where you can play with people from all over the world, customize your appearance in the changing room and hang out in the Locker Room before playing.
There is ongoing research into how VR changes the experience of playing video-games. The following links offer a sample of recent research papers if you’d like further reading.