HOW YOU STILL EXIST HERE, WHEN YOU ARE ALREADY THERE
FADI ABU ZUHRI
The advancement of technology has brought about changes in how people interact and perceive each other and their environment. The presence of online gaming, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality has paved the way not only in the perception of reality but also in the enjoyment of games, improvement of services, advancement of healthcare and business innovation.
This paper will focus on the characteristics, features and challenges of online gaming, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Online gaming is an activity using a video game that is connected to the Internet or another computer network where a number of users are participating in one game (Rollings & Hall, 2006). Online gaming has become a popular activity for children, teenagers, young and old adults. A significant amount of time is spent gamers online where they can participate in games that offer club-like virtual communities. With this, the players can virtually socialize and participate in competitive gaming and computer-mediated encounters with other players around the world (Voiskounsky, Mitina, & Avetisova, 2004).
Interaction with fellow gamers is considered to be the highlight of this virtual experience (Lewinski, 2000; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Mithra, 1998). Laurel (1993) defined interaction as conduct of communication between two or more people and how this communication affects them (Laurel, 1993). For instance, an online game where a player interact with a certain monster, defeating and killing the monster, the player is rewarded depending on the monster’s response. This kind of interaction has a substantial effect on the popularity of online gaming as it immerses the player in a virtual world through narratives, missions and personalized avatars (Lewinski, 2000; Ju & Wagner, 1997; Cummins, 2002; Eskelinen, 2001). This phenomenon has encouraged online game developers to offer a unique out-of-this-world experience in the games they build (Lewinski, 2000; Johnson, 1998; Gillespie, 1997).
In spite of its popularity, online gaming faces several challenges that hinder the development of enabling technologies that improve the interaction and experience in online gaming. Secretly held engineering practices and proprietary approaches to building games have made it impossible to create online gaming standards. Life span of a game is limited where evolution, upgrading, and new missions are no longer available upon reaching a certain level. A lack of game play description hinders the analysis and creation of new gaming environment (Morgan, 2009).
Virtual Reality (VR) describes a virtually and digitally developed space or environment that a person can access only through the usage of highly technological equipment (Lanier, 1992; Rheingold, 1991; Sutherland, 1968). When a person is inside the created space, the person can travel from one place to another, virtually interacting with the objects and people present in that digital environment. Decades ago, the concept of VR was coupled with images of people wearing futuristic headgears, gloves and full-body suits. This has become the symbol of an emerging technological advancement that can be seen nowadays. VR is continually improving as scientists and artists are working on how this technology can be further optimized to create out-of-the-body experience (Fox, Arena, & Bailenson, 2009).
Virtual reality refers to a virtual environment. This environment is a rendered digital space where the user is placed upon entering a VR experience. In this place, the user’s movements are tracked, surroundings are created, and the user’s experience is rendered based on their reactions to the interactions. To illustrate, in an online game, where keys are used to move forward or sideward, which in effect cause the game to create a new environment based on this movement. The virtual environment makes use of the cues coming from the movement of the player to render new environments, replacing the real actual environment with the virtual environment (Fox, Arena, & Bailenson, 2009).
According to Biocca and Levy (1995), an effective virtual environment is one where the player’s sensory impressions are blocked and separated from the real world environment. The bodily senses of the players must be immersed in the digital world while the user’s physical body is visible to the real world. The player is immersed in the virtual world created by the game where the user’s emotional and psychological being is experiencing a different version of themselves, separate from the physical world (Witmer & Singer, 1998). There are several versions on how a virtual environment can be rendered and experienced. It can be through computer-based platforms, mobile phones and portable electronics like tablets, desktop monitors or wearable VR gadget where a player can move their entire body and interact with the virtual world (Fox, Arena, & Bailenson, 2009).
The Virtual Reality and the virtual environment constantly tracks the user and renders the environment accordingly, thereby enhancing user experience. Unlike the usual games, Virtual Reality provides an optimal level of interaction with the digital world. In the virtual environment, the gamer is given a role where the flow of the game itself can be modified depending on the gamer’s achievements and upgrades. This interaction alone inhibits the gamer to use their cognitive and active participation to realize their progress while playing. Thus, Virtual Reality promotes interactivity between the gamer and the game, which make it more realistic albeit abstract. (Fox, Arena, & Bailenson, 2009)
Augmented Reality (AR) is a different flavour of Virtual Reality or virtual environment. Augmented reality combines the element of the physical world and the digital world. Unlike Virtual Reality, where the gamer is immersed in a rendered environment, Augmented Reality allows the gamer to perceive the real world, virtually, in real time. However, in Augmented Reality, despite the appearance of the physical world, composite virtual objects are continuously rendered and imposed (Azuma, 1997).
In essence, Augmented Reality is merely a combination of real and virtual environments. In AR, the interaction is in real time and it operates and uses 3D environment. The technology in Augmented Reality allows certain digital objects presented visually but cannot be detected alone by the gamer without any interface. This kind of reality, allows a gamer to perceive graphical interfaces combined with the real world in the real time. The use of Augmented Reality involves the combination of advanced technologies that are responsible in materializing digital content with the gamer’s perception of the environment. The technology of Augmented Reality is basically a gold mine for possibilities as it can be used not just in games but also in sports, entertainment, education, medicine, and businesses. (Kipper & Rampolla, 2012)
According to Boyajian (2017) the launch of Pokémon Go in 2016 popularised AD to the rest of the world. The presence and use of Augmented Reality overshadowed the popularity of Virtual Reality (Boyajian, 2017).
The advancement of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality has proven to be useful in the scenarios like education, medicine and business. However, there are challenges in further enhancement of Augmented Reality and it mass popularity. The first challenge is the limited availablity and cost of AR hardware like headsets. As such, the usage of these headsets is restricted to enterprise and military use. Most developed hardwares are not even available to the public. Aside from price and limited supply, the portability and convenience is also an issue because some hardware needs to be tethered to a computer (Boyajian, 2017).
A second challenge for Augmented Reality is the content which means the corresponding applications that must be installed for the AR and its hardware. As such, hardware manufacturers make sure that their market has already installed the suitable applications in their mobile phones or computers to make use of the hardware. In addition to this, it is essential for the company to develop 3D content to integrate with their applications and provide optimal virtual experience. However, developing 3D content is costly and time consuming (Boyajian, 2017).
The final challenge facing Augmented Reality is educating the mass market. Vast majority of consumers do not have the knowledge or even awareness of Augmented Reality. There may be others who have exposure, but their experience in Augmented Reality is limited and does not focus on practical aspects of their lives. Because of this, there is an opportunity for AR and VR to be mainstreamed in the educational curriculum so that students have better grasp about this technology and can think of innovations that are applicable and necessary to the real world (Boyajian, 2017).
The introduction of online gaming, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality has shattered the typical perception on what is present and what it not. These technologies allowed a user to be physically present but mentally and psychologically detached to the real world, fully immersed with the 2D/3D environment he is in, interacting and making progress. With the Augmented Reality, a person can see objects digitally rendered that are not possible to be physically present, but with the help of hardwares and graphical interface, can be present and allow interaction. These technologies are not just for games but can be widely used in practical ways like education, medicine, sports among other applications.
It is only a matter or time before these applications become commonplace given the fast pace of technological advancements. It is too early to evaluate the security considerations related to AR/ VR. Forensic science is still grappling with how to understand psychological behaviour in virtual environments. Would these applications take into consideration the cultural and emotional element of human interaction? These and many other questions remain unanswered as we pump millions of dollars into developing better gaming environments.
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