Virtual reality is proving to be an incredibly diverse tool. Not only does it have a wealth of medical treatment applications, but VR is also gaining a lot of interest from educators who feel that it’s the perfect way to make the learning process more engaging.
As game developers produce works for VR, they can use the unique attributes of the medium to create games that take advantage of virtual reality’s enhanced learning potential.
Whether this means trusting the audience to learn more as they go, or delivering puzzles that make use of the games’ 3D presence, there’s a lot of new and interesting possibilities on the horizon for encouraging problem-solving within VR games.
The Perfect Learning Tool
Physical presence matters a lot in all forms of learning. At its most simple, learning within a classroom is made easier because of the environment that surrounds students, and being able to better visualize abstract concepts helps to make an otherwise dry curriculum more palatable for the human mind.
It’s for these reasons that many educational bodies are putting a lot of effort into studying how virtual reality can aid learning.
One study found that three minutes in a VR simulation about resource conservation made a 20% difference to participants’ immediate attitudes to their use of disposable paper towels (when compared with traditional learning methods), a finding which the study concluded shows that experiencing an event in virtual reality makes a significant impact on the way students learn and adjust their behavior and problem-solving approach.
All students learn differently—some are stimulated best by visual or audio materials, while others prefer “learning by doing” and getting physically involved in an action to get a grasp for how it works. With the immersive power of VR, all students are able to take in information and practice skills in an environment that aids their own personal preference for skill learning.
With this power to help students learn more quickly, VR games can take a different approach to traditional video games in preparing players for the world they’re exploring and the various skills and techniques they’ll need to succeed.
Information Presentation in VR Games
Learning has always been central to video games. While educational titles like Mario is Missing and The Oregon Trail are usually given the most credit as digital tools for aiding development, the truth is that all video games teach skills and problem-solving.
All games require learning. Any game that’s easily beaten without developing new skills is generally considered a waste of time—gamers enjoy the experience of figuring out the rules of the world they’re in, practicing the problem-solving techniques at their disposal, and overcoming increasingly difficult challenges. Whether a game is a puzzle title like Tetris, or a first-person shooter like Duke Nukem, there’s learning to be done for every player as they come to grips with the game world.
This is no less true in virtual reality. Players are absorbed entirely into a virtual world which overcomes their key senses, and without a careful planning of information that the player learns, games can easily end up overwhelming the player. It’s important for players to learn about the world around them at a manageable pace, with the game not increasing in difficulty until the player’s had a proper opportunity to practice the core gameplay mechanic.
A smart game designer plans games out carefully to help point players towards the lessons they need to learn. Gone are the days of ultra-hard platformer titles that require careful reading of the instruction booklet to learn what all of the buttons do—modern games are a lot better at teaching gamers on the fly, either through simple tutorial lessons or helping players develop new skills as the game progresses.
Often held up as an example by game design professionals, the original Portal is an excellent example of what all game developers, including VR designers, can do to help spread out the learning that players are required to do. In the game, players learn about the mechanics of the titular portals before they’re given an opportunity to create portals for themselves. Each new test chamber introduces a mechanic which hasn’t previously appeared, until the player’s built up an understanding of all the ways they can use the environment around them.
It’s this kind of drawn-out learning that helps keep a game interesting and engaging while teaching the player in a subtle, unobtrusive manner. This is the kind of game design that VR developers should emulate to help players properly acclimatize to their game world.
Taking Advantage of Learning in VR
Within virtual reality games, there’s no need for lengthy plot exposition communicated by voiceover or cutscenes, and there’s no need for players to have to be told what every button combination will do. Players can explore for themselves and learn without being pushed, and the VR games that do the best at teaching their players will be the ones that use interactions with the environment to teach the player what they need to know.
This is the approach that Loading Human takes with many elements of its gameplay. Players are able to practice the physical manipulation of objects and items through interacting within an initial safe space—picking up objects, leafing through books, and practicing the fine motor skills necessary to play the game. This is all done to feed the player’s eagerness to explore and learn about the game world.
What’s more, plenty of exposition about the game’s plot and characters is given while the player is doing this. In using a gamer’s natural urge to seek out hidden secrets and explore the world around them, Loading Human takes advantage of a chance to teach the player without forcing them to endure a dry summary of their skills or the game’s plot.
Throughout VR games, the best learning is an experience that doesn’t feel like learning. Pushing players to practice skills and read up on the history of the game world is a surefire way to lose the player’s interest, while delivering exposition and skill practice as a reward for the player’s natural inclination to explore makes for a far more rewarding experience.
Learning within VR is substantially easier than learning in other games. This advantage isn’t inherent, though—it’s up to game developers to take advantage of the unique potentials of the medium.
VR learning can either be a frustrating barrier to enjoying the full game experience, if not done well, or an enjoyable part of progressing through the game’s many puzzles and challenges. Ultimately the success of a VR game will come down to how carefully the game’s developers craft the key moments that teach the player how to interact with the world they’re discovering.
Loading Human mixes science fiction with drama, wrapping the entire package in a high-tech science-fiction bow. Order your copy today and prepare for a storytelling experience unlike any other!