The Power (and Danger) of Wish Fulfilment in Virtual Reality

virtual reality game Loading Human

I’m not a superhero.

That’s probably not a surprise to you, but considering my childhood dream of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, getting to this stage in life without being bitten by a radioactive spider or being the product of a scientific experiment is something of a letdown.

I, like many other people raised on comic books, would jump at the chance to feel what it’s like to have fantastic powers. And that’s not the only fantasy out there – others dream of success, fame, travel, or even physical intimacy that they’re not able to get in their ordinary life.

Enter virtual reality: an opportunity for people everywhere to be able to experience what it’s like to see their every wish come true.

Except, even in the digital world, it’s not always best to give people everything that they want. Instantly fulfilling gamers’ wildest fantasies will entertain them for a while, but in many cases, it’s best to make players work for those wondrous moments of freedom and control over the digital world around them.

Living Room Window in Virtual Reality Game Loading Human

A Whole New World

VR technology has a lot of exciting uses in the modern world, aside from just gaming. One use of the technology that will no doubt be incredibly popular is its opportunity for tourism, with users able to put on a headset and instantly travel to a variety of real-world or fantasy locations, all without leaving the comfort of their own homes.

To showcase the power and possibilities of the HTC Vive, Valve has actually already developed an application that will let players admire a beautiful view. A series of scenes have been constructed out of hundreds of photos of a mountain in Washington, which users can view and travel through from several locations. As this technology is used further for e-tourism, VR technology owners will no doubt be given the opportunity to explore more and more places – they’re essentially given the power to go anywhere or see anything with minimal expense or effort.

Of course, this kind of application can hardly be described as a game – and therein lies the problem. While it’s fun to look at a virtual landscape, and have your every travel wish fulfilled virtually, this ‘all powerful’ use of the technology very quickly loses its novelty if applied to games. If you are given the ability to experience amazing VR superpowers or see your wishes come true in front of your eyes, it won’t be long before you find yourself bored with the whole experience.

To hold a player’s attention, even in VR, a game has to provide limits and challenges for to be overcome.

Absolute Power is Boring

In addition to being one of the most popular characters in film and comic books, Batman is also one of the most beloved video game characters – the Arkham series of games has time and again given players the satisfaction of taking on the persona of the Dark Knight and cracking some skulls.

It’s interesting, then, that while Batman works very well in video games, Superman hasn’t exactly fared as well. Most of his games range from fairly average affairs to some absolutely terrible titles that are universally reviled, such as Superman on the Commodore 64, and the polygonal mess that is Superman 64.

These games have plenty of problems, but the one standout reason why the character is difficult to get right in gaming is that Superman is just too powerful. He doesn’t have Batman’s weaknesses, so there’s no real peril – players don’t feel challenged if they literally can’t be beaten.

As fun as it is to fly around a city as an invincible Kryptonian, it’s a lot more fun to play as a human being, having to lurk in the shadows and avoid detection or face the consequences. It’s from the threat of failure that games get their challenge, which is crucial to making sure players stay engaged for more than ten minutes.

This isn’t to say that gamers shouldn’t feel empowered by their experience, but it’s a much more satisfying experience when they have to work their way up to it.

Instead of Wish Fulfillment, Super Metroid made each skill hard-fought.
Instead of Wish Fulfillment, Super Metroid made each skill hard-fought. | Image source gamefaqs.com

The Thrill of New Skills

The Metroid series of games (as well as Castlevania and plenty of RPGs) has a neat mechanic which really makes for an exciting experience.

The entire game world is open and free – players can explore at their own pace in any direction they want. But as they explore, they find plenty of areas that are inaccessible to their character, and items that are tantalizingly out of reach.

As players advance through the game, they run into a variety of monsters, each growing in difficulty – with every victory, the player is rewarded by a new ability, including rockets, ice beams and bombs. Each new power helps the player to overcome obstacles that were previously blocking their path.

With each victory, players appreciate each newly gained power because they can now access areas that were unlocked or defeat monsters with greater ease. Every skill is hard-earned, and is respected as a result. By the end of the game, players have unlocked enough powers that there are almost no challenges left except the large final boss fights – every step of the journey has made them appreciate their newfound power all the more.

Just Because VR Can Doesn’t Mean It Should

From a VR design perspective, it’s often very tempting to give players everything they could want from a virtual reality experience, but often, as with Metroid, it’s better to be selective. Because a VR world feels so real, users and designers alike are often eager to visit incredible virtual worlds and experience fantasy fulfilment. While there will no doubt be VR offerings that find success pursuing this route, the games that shy away from wish fulfillment will experience longer-lasting success.  Players need to earn abilities and strive for goals, rather than having everything handed to them.

This is the way Loading Human moderates wish fulfillment: the game lets players experience a fantastic science fiction world, a beautiful apartment and a wealth of amazing toys and trinkets – for a while. As all of the layers of the game are peeled back, players discover that the world they’re in is not as perfect as it appeared at first. This realization motivates them to work throughout the game to overcome the obstacles in their path, and re-attain some of the beauty of the early stages of the game.

VR environment in Loading Human

A Careful Balancing Act

Fulfilling players’ fantasies is part of what games are about, but to create a compelling, engaging and interesting VR video game, it’s important to balance this wish fulfillment with a struggle – players need to earn their rewards, or else the entire experience will become dull quickly.

So as much fun as it would be for me to play a VR game where I can fly around, knocking over skyscrapers with a finger, capturing bad guys with one hand behind my back, it’s better for me to have limitations in my way that make the experience more challenging.

At the end of the day, wanting something is a lot more fun than actually having it.

Preorder your copy of Loading Human today, and discover the VR game that provides a beautiful sci-fi world that’s bound to keep you engaged and challenged.

Andrew Nguyen

Producer, gamer, coffee roaster, leather worker, and part-time streamer.

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