In the summer of 2016, the gaming industry experienced a worldwide revolution with the release of Pokémon Go. With the introduction of Augmented Reality technology on a platform so accessible to the public, combined with the franchise that has the largest fan base on the planet, the game instantly went viral. The reach of the game could be witnessed by merely looking around in public - players could be seen walking, detached from everything around them, staring down at their smartphones as if it contained another dimension they had temporarily escaped into. The irony? For them it wasn’t just an escape, it was migration.
The AR/VR/MR technology is gradually becoming more visible in our day-to-day lives as it has recently been revolutionizing and impacting a lot of fields in the market. The interactive print campaign being led by WOWSOME is one of the prime examples. Biology in particular has been benefiting a lot from the applications of VR and 3-D. Along with being efficient and useful, such applications have also helped in educating the public regarding the big changes that AR/VR is about to bring in everyone’s lives. However, considering the statistics and facts, it’s hard to say similar things about the AR/VR being used in the gaming industry.
The initial introduction of AR/VR technology in the gaming industry has resulted in some serious questions being raised about the long-term consequences by the public consumers. There have been games that introduced Augmented Reality to gaming before Pokémon Go. Ingress, for instance, was developed by Niantic, the same team behind Pokémon Go. However Pokémon Go was the first such game to transition into mainstream success and therefore also the most analyzed and criticized. It was instrumental in creating dialogue about the current and potential pros and cons of using such a new and complicated technology in an industry that caters to solely the leisure of the masses.
Gaming at its core is and has always been about transporting oneself into another world, another reality, by leaving one’s own self behind and stepping into the shoes of another (mostly fictional) character. One moment you could be playing as Cristiano Ronaldo and scoring goals for Manchester United (Fifa) and the next moment you could be playing as a German soldier invading Poland during World War II (Call of Duty). Since the very beginning, efforts have been made to make this whole experience as immersive as possible, and the introduction of AR/VR in the gaming industry is in process of changing that experience forever. AR/VR technology in gaming will not just allow one to play as another character, but in a lot of ways allow one to be another individual, with their own past and present in a virtual simulation. It will enable us to perceive the surroundings and reality of the computer characters similar to the ways in which we humans perceive our reality, via our senses, for e.g. vision, touch, etc. It will technically allow us to virtually leave our lives and instead live as the characters we chose inside the game. The idea of escaping and leading multiple lives via gaming is very popular among humans, and the popularity of Pokémon Go further establishes that fact.
In case of Pokémon Go, Augmented reality gaming is what brought this escape to life. By giving the huge Pokémon fan base the opportunity to walk into an augmented world full of tame-able creatures and become like their favorite Pokémon trainer, it tapped into the nostalgia of a generation that grew up obsessed with the franchise. The escape was so real that the game still remains the most downloaded application on android and IOS, a record it broke within weeks of launch. However, unfortunately in this case, the biggest advantage of AR/VR, which is its completely immersive nature, also happens to be its greatest peril. Besides the massive addiction upscale that it caused, to an extent that people started quitting their day jobs to have time to play the game, the outdoor nature of the game has caused thousands of accidents. Location based Augmented reality of the game requires players to be at outdoor locations for the game to render the reality they see into the Pokémon World. This resulted in the game being responsible for tons of crimes and accidents ranging from trespassing, theft and robberies to sexual assault and vehicle accidents (people would prefer to play the game while driving instead of walking to avoid the hard work).
Countries like Bali, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been the first to ban the game because of its highly addictive nature, which they believe adversely affects the performance of government agencies. Many other countries like Australia maintain a negative attitude towards the game. It remains undeniable that the immersive nature of AR/VR combined with modern gaming threatens to blur the lines between what is real and what is artificial. Why would a die hard Pokémon fan choose a nine to five day job when he has the option of living like his favorite Pokémon trainer who was also his childhood idol?
These hard consequences (along with shows like Black Mirror) have created a stigma around future of AR/VR in gaming. To the extent that Niantic (the company behind Pokémon Go) is delaying the release of its next Augmented reality game based on Harry Potter, another huge franchise, until it is fully certain that it can handle the fan frenzy much better the next time. The transition of mainstream console games into AR/VR atmosphere has also experienced a halt because of all the questions being asked about the consequences of the technology. No major mainstream titles (franchises with huge fan bases like Fifa, Call of Duty, God of war) have rolled out yet on the VR consoles (Sony, Oculus) except for a few independent arcade games that merely demonstrate the use of the AR/VR technology.
The introduction of AR/VR in the gaming industry has been a noticeable one for certain. Along with the huge success it has experienced, there has been an equal amount of backlash. While we cannot stop technology from advancing because of fear, it is important to make informed decisions regarding products that are certain to achieve mass public consumption. Hopefully we can draw on past experiences to ensure the AR/VR technology experiences a smooth path forward in the gaming industry and who knows, one day we might have the opportunity to walk around Hogwarts and indulge in some harmless Quidditch.