Unrealistic Elements Keep Players Grounded in the VR Gaming Experience

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How close you are to the world in a VR experience — both physically and emotionally — depends on how a virtual reality game represents reality. While it might seem like more photorealistic graphics will mean a better VR experience, that’s not quite true; even in traditional gaming, missing the photorealistic mark by even a small degree can lead to a serious case of the uncanny valley. To keep immersion at its most effective, developers play with a few different ways of bending reality. Though it might seem counterintuitive, these methods actually help keep players grounded in the game world without slipping toward the disconcerting.

Despite its mundane premise, Job Simulator takes the absurdist approach to gameplay, its cartoony graphics and physics working with the technology to ensure immersion. Image Source: Owlchemy Labs.
Despite its mundane premise, Job Simulator takes the absurdist approach to gameplay, its cartoony graphics and physics working with the technology to ensure immersion. Image Source: Owlchemy Labs.

Absurdist Gameplay and Style Play to VR Gaming’s Strengths

Games that channel the absurd as part of their appeal have seen a lot of popularity in the last few years, as titles like Goat Simulator and Surgeon Simulator attract attention precisely because they’re weird, reality-bending games rather than faithful recreations of the real world.

This is how Job Simulator works. It takes place in 2050, after all jobs have been taken over by robots; in this game, you’re actually a human using a simulator to see what jobs were like before the robot takeover. It’s a simple, effective way to convey that you’re a step away from reality—not only are you playing with a VR headset, but you’re also in a simulation inside a simulation.

The result is that you’re not bogged down in feeling uncomfortable with the way that the game world looks. Because the game is meant to be a simulation and not a faithful representation of reality, it can explore object interaction, kinetic controls, and fully three-dimensional environments without causing as much cognitive dissonance as games that are one step short of reality. By playing a game that’s not meant to be realistic, you aren’t focused on the details that don’t match up.

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In Loading Human, the science fiction setting allows the story to explore themes of life, death, and relationships through incredibly complex means, supporting the virtual reality technology through its narrative.

Speculative Settings Support VR Technology in Story

Other games do things a bit differently, shifting away from reality not in the gameplay, but in the setting. This gives you the freedom to explore complex stories and themes in unique ways—a common feature of genres like science fiction and fantasy—while also making the most of VR’s capabilities.

Loading Human is a narrative-focused VR experience that pushes the technology’s storytelling potential, using its futuristic setting to explore themes of life, death, and love. While these are not uncommon themes, VR takes them to a whole new level as you inhabit the body of another person whose problems are both like and unlike your own. The sci-fi setting allows Untold Games to examine these ideas in even deeper ways as the protagonist, Prometheus, deals with the ethical implications of his father’s desire to live forever.

In Loading Human, the technology is tied into the story, heightening your immersion and allowing you to experience the narrative in a truly unique fashion. It’s a story developed strictly for the medium, and the sci-fi setting lends credibility to the use of technology and the exploration of how that technology can be used.

unreality in virtual reality video games
London Heist’s detached hands are strange at first, but ultimately feel more realistic to players than trying to wield a pistol connected to a virtual arm. Image Source: Moreuse via YouTube.

Unrealistic Modeling May Heighten Immersion

There are still other approaches to creating an immersive VR experience that feels realistic without necessarily representing reality. One of the most counterintuitive is using unrealistic visuals, such as detached hands, to create a greater sense of immersion in an otherwise realistic world. Rather than the most realistic representations of bodies being the most immersive, being too close to reality without actually being real can actually be distracting for players. A more stylized approach is actually preferable in many instances, especially over glassy-eyed character models that look just shy of being human. And when you mix in motion controls and virtual reality, the number of elements that can swivel from realistic to unsettling drastically increase.

The London Heist is a realistic VR experience with shooter elements, but it takes the interesting creative approach of detaching the player character’s hands from their body. Your character has two hands, but they’re separated from the body by a space where the wrists would be. While it immediately reminds you that you’re in a game, in spite of the realistic setting, it also ensures you have the accuracy and ability to move that the gameplay requires. Early motion-controlled first-person games like Red Steel had to contend with this — because the motion controllers only recognize hand and wrist movement and not elbow or shoulder twisting, the arms responded to wrist movement and came out moving rather like wet noodles.

Trying to represent swordfighting and gunplay, both of which require quick, deft hand movements, resulted in spaghetti-like limbs that ultimately felt more distracting and less realistic than The London Heist’s lack of wrists. Because you’re not distracted by rubbery or overly stiff limbs, you’re able to move the hands with the finesse and accuracy required for a shooter. While it might initially strike the player as odd, the detached hands actually move more realistically than something like Red Steel’s arms, and in a realistic game like The London Heist, this compromise makes a big difference.

Realism in VR Takes Unique Forms

Realism in VR is a tricky thing. We want our games to adhere to some rules of reality, but too much reality can actually be more distracting than the alternative. Each unique approach represents reality with the dials slightly tweaked, creating environments that let us fully immerse ourselves without the distraction of comparing everything to reality.

Loading Human grounds its science fiction setting in explorations of themes like death and romance, offering a unique virtual reality experience. Preorder your copy now!

 

David Bridgham

Producer, Gamer, Musician, Sports Car Enthusiast, Slow Jogger.

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