I’ve only tried a small amount of virtual reality gaming, and although what I’ve played so far has been massive amounts of fun, all of my experiences have been fairly short with developers leaning towards smaller and more contained experiences. When I say ‘short’ I mean short in comparison to some gaming experiences, namely found in RPGs, which allow players to traverse open worlds and clock up hundreds of hours of gameplay. The concentration on shorter experiences is most likely because it’s not entirely clear, as yet, what the physical and mental effects of spending long periods of time using a virtual reality headset would be. I only have to read a long book or spend a couple of days on my own to become slightly dissociated from reality, so I can’t really imagine what would happen if I visually and mentally entered an open world RPG for hours at a time.
It might not be something we have to imagine for long, though, since it’s surfaced that Sony Computer Entertainment Japan have trademarked the term ‘VRPG’ in Japan, starting waves of speculation that they could be developing a virtual reality role playing game for their Playstation VR headset. Or they could just be having another overzealous ‘Let’s Play’ moment. Considering this is kind of similar to the acronym JRPG which stands for ‘Japanese role-playing game’, it’s not a massive leap to assume that VRPG could stand for ‘virtual role-playing game’, cleverly rolling in the VR acronym too. Plus, the patent has been filed in Japan – could it be a VR version of a JRPG?
The trademark is class 9, which is applied to games already in development. At CES a Sony Chief Executive revealed that they had over 100 titles in development for Playstation VR so it could very well be possible that at least one of these titles would be some form of RPG, although at this point it is purely speculation with Sony staying quiet on the matter. Regardless of whether or not it’s true, RPGs are a genre notorious for their long play times and we want to consider how a virtual reality role-playing game would work.
Having tried HTC’s Vive, the Oculus Rift, and Playstation VR, I have to admit the Playstation VR is the one I would feel most comfortable using for an extended period of time; it’s been designed to be more like a helmet and less like goggles, with weight being distributed across the top of the head as well as around it. Plus, Playstation VR has the highest refresh rate of all the headsets, sitting at 120hz rather than 90hz meaning you should see smoother images with the Playstation headset. It also has a 5.7 inch OLED display reducing motion blur and low latency, meaning a small amount of time passing between your movements outside the game and inside it. All of these features taken together mean a greatly reduced strain on the eyes which should allow players to be able to play for longer.
Still, I’m not sure how advisable it would be to go on a four hour journey in the Commonwealth of Fallout 4 wearing a VR headset; content would no doubt have to be broken up and scaled back. One way to do this would be to break up games into episodes. We know this already works with Telltale Games titles like Game of Thrones, or Dontnod’s Life is Strange, and it could be applied to a few existing full-length role-playing games out there; Dragon Quest 4 is a role-playing game split into chapters which could very easily have been released as separate episodes so it’s not such a game-changing idea. An episodic game might be a reasonable way to bring longer and more involving titles to VR, giving these long and immersive games a natural ‘right, leave now and live your life’ point. Actually, that’s something I could probably use regardless of whether or not VR is involved.
Of course, it’s not certain that this trademark even indicates an RPG for virtual reality (it could easily be the name for an accessory to the headset) but it is interesting and exciting to consider where gaming will go in virtual reality, what the limitations are, and how we might reasonably overcome them. The immersive nature of VR would really compliment the involving narratives of RPG games, and I would jump at the chance to experience some of my favourite RPG adventures in VR. Actually, screw physical well-being, let’s make this happen.
Main Image © Sony