You know the goosebumps you get when you’re home at night and you hear something, somewhere in the house rattling around? You could know for a fact that it’s your cat playing with a toy, or your roommate moving furniture, or your upstairs neighbor stomping around, but there’s still a part of you that can’t help asking, “What if it isn’t?”
That feeling isn’t blatant fear, not exactly. Moments like these are more unsettling or discomforting than anything else. They come not from what we know to be true, but what we don’t know, and when games aim to capture this feeling, the stories they tell are often more powerful than those that simply try to scare the pants off us.
The difference between fear and being unsettled is subtle. So what is it that goes into making unsettling games over outright horror?
When I think of science fiction, I think of spaceships blasting through asteroid belts, white-knuckled pilots at the helm. I think of colonization and alien diplomacy, of faster-than-light travel, of exploring the unknown with a loyal crew.
Logically, I know there’s more to the genre than that. I’ve never been a huge fan of space opera, so I tend to gravitate toward blends of sci-fi and horror, or stories with time travel, especially if they focus on the human element. Despite the genre’s associations with aliens and space, sci-fi is a pretty diverse field encompassing stories of all kinds; sci-fi subgenres range from subtle shifts in reality to entirely new universes completely unlike our own. Even the all-important spaceship is little more than a tool; the trappings and tropes of sci-fi subgenres are available for many different purposes, making science fiction a genre with incredible potential for diverse, wide-reaching stories.
Some of us go nuts for action, shooters, or platformers—games that require quick problem solving and lightning-fast reflexes. Others prefer more methodical games—puzzles to be solved, relationships to be developed, and the organization of resources. And some gamers even enjoy farming simulators and other peaceful escapism. There really is something for everyone out there.
When it comes to virtual reality gaming, there are a lot of options for players to choose from—most major genres of games are represented by the growing library of titles available for VR devices, and many more are in development.
At the same time, though, video games need to have a challenge to them—if a puzzle doesn’t provide any opposition, it isn’t actually all that enjoyable to play.
Historically, adventure games have never been particularly shy when it comes to making hard challenges for the player. Some of the most popular titles in the genre force players to try a variety of different tactics and approaches to particular puzzles before finding the intended solution.
This approach doesn’t work the same in virtual reality, though. As the VR medium is built around selling the player on the realism of the game world, constant failure at the hands of peculiar puzzles does little more than break immersion and take the player out of the game.
I remember the heaven that was playing my Game Boy alone when I was younger.
Back in a time when the TV was the only color screen in the house, securing precious time to play console games usually meant onlookers. It meant sharing the experience with other members of the family who would give commentary, suggestions, or who might want a turn at playing for themselves.
Playing my Game Boy was different, though – that tiny pixelated screen was all my own, and I could play for hours by myself without anyone else interfering.
VR games have a lot of potential to change the way we think about video games. While they may use elements we recognize from common genres, they do it in a very different way. What we expect of genres like shooters or adventure games may change when we’re experiencing them through virtual reality, as the exploration and first-person interaction add unique elements to conventional formats.
Game genres are often defined by mechanics rather than setting, archetypes, or conventions. When you throw VR in the mix, those mechanics change—so how will this impact the way we think about genre in VR games?
It should come as no surprise that some game genres work better in virtual reality than others.
Also unsurprising, the best genres for VR are the ones that use the player’s position behind the camera to increase the emotion and excitement that a player experiences within the game. Some of the best fits are a natural evolution of existing game genres which already provide this kind of experience.
Here are five game genres that will particularly excel in virtual reality, and a few games to keep an eye on within them:
The science fiction genre has been central to gaming for decades—from Space Invaders to Half-Life, Starcraft to Eve Online, gamers have been living in one futuristic fantasy or another for decades. It’s common to see games touch on the possibilities—and potential dangers—of life among the stars or a world of advanced technology. Continue reading →
Ah, the Adventure game. Once the mainstay genre of the gaming industry, point-and-click titles lost popularity around the turn of the century, and for a while were considered a dead format by many developers.
Hope is not lost, though: a recent resurgence in the popularity of adventure games, led primarily by small and independent game studios trying new ideas and formats for the genre, has seen returning interest in these masterpieces of storytelling. Even more exciting are the opportunities that virtual reality technology will create, as games driven by character development and narrative progression take on a new direction as immersive, first-person experiences.
VR might well be about to breathe new life into this genre that was once almost entirely written off by critics and gamers alike – which ought to give fans of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and King’s Quest plenty to be excited about!
It’s 2:00 a.m. and I’m riveted to my computer screen. Yes, it’s long past my bedtime, but I’m caught up in the emotionally driven world of an episodic game. I started it just the day before, I can feel the conclusion nearing, and I can’t put the game down. Life is Strange might be laying it on a little thick with the teen melodrama, but I can’t help but be sucked in; like a well-written soap opera, it draws me in and keeps me hooked.
If today’s narrative-heavy games can get players staying up long hours to get the whole thing done in one or two sittings, the potential for immersive, you-are-the-hero virtual reality games is limitless. Longer games can stretch out the narrative over many hours and pack the story full of combat, puzzle-solving, and other elements that sometimes bloat an otherwise good story. Episodic games boil the story down to its essentials. Putting you in the shoes of a game’s protagonist, a virtual reality game loaded with emotion is a concentrated gut-punch (in the best way), showing the powerful storytelling capabilities of both episodic games and VR.