It’s odd to watch a friend climb on a platform, put on a helmet and then suddenly start twisting crazily and punching the air in all directions. But video game fans are used to it. They come across scenes like this every day in video arcades.
Virtual reality is the newest, and hottest, type of computer game available. Players love it because it’s the first game that lets them feel as though they are actually inside the game, taking part in the action around them.
Through the magic of virtual reality, you can become a boxer or turn into a robot by simply putting on a helmet and stepping up to the controls. The key to the “reality” you feel is the helmet. It covers your eyes and ears, blocking off your normal vision and hearing. Turn on a switch and you ‘re surrounded by the sights and sounds of the game world.
In the boxing game, you hear cheering crowds and the booming voice of an announcer calling out instructions. Then you find yourself standing in a boxing ring, face to face with a big, nasty-looking opponent. The bell rings for the first round and you go in punching. You can even choose a two-player option, so that the face you ‘re hitting belongs to a friend!
Ever since the first electronic games came out more than 15 years ago, game developers have been working on programs that could increase the feeling of reality in their games. Their newest products, called interactive games, involve the most advanced game technology ever developed. Virtual reality games are the most complex of these.
It is important to understand the difference between interactive and passive entertainment when talking about video games. Watching television is passive: you sit in a chair in front of a TV set and take in whatever is shown on the screen. You don’t have to do anything except keep your eyes open.
Listening to the radio can’t be called interactive because you aren’t actively involved in what is said or what you hear over the airwaves. But it is a less passive activity than watching TV because you use your imagination to fill in images to go with the sounds you hear.
Computer games are interactive because what you do influences how the game turns out: if you don’t find the right secret tunnels, you can’t escape the evil castle, and unless you avoid the traps along the way, you die and the game is over.
In virtual reality, you reach a new level of interaction. With images and sound all around you, thanks to the helmet and some very expensive computer technology, you move from simply watching or playing a game, to experiencing it.
You can hang from a helicopter and watch the ground speed by far below your feet. Or turn around 180 ° and see the bad guy coming up behind you. The creators of virtual reality are far from finished. They dream of one day coming up with a game world that players won’t be able to tell apart from the real thing. It would allow people to feel, and even taste and smell, the environment they have stepped into. According to the game developers, it’s only a matter of time.