Virtual reality games and headsets put users into another world. It simulates a three-dimensional environment in which you can play and explore. Users experience immersion and feel as though they are actually inside this alternate reality. Crucially, they even feel able to interact with their virtual environment! For some users, the experience feels so real, they temporarily forget their outside surroundings. Instead they focus solely on their existence inside the virtual environment.
Virtual reality is not just games for the entertainment industry either. There are a whole host of applications for such technology in other fields, such as the military, education, healthcare, sport, even fashion!
The reason using a Virtual Reality headset feels so real is that, unlike watching a 3D movie, there doesn’t seem to be any edge to the screen. As you turn your head left and right, the computer re-calculates the image. So, you are immersed by 360 degrees!
Depending on the head mounted display, video is either sent from a computer/console or it’s already on the smartphone inserted in it. Between the display and your eye, there are lenses that reshape and focus the image from 2D to 3D. Headphones can also be used to increase the feeling of reality by playing sound effects. This stimulates even more of your senses. Scientists and engineers are also researching how to include a user’s sense of touch and how to interact with that too! These are called biosensors and they detect nerve and muscle activity.
Good Virtual Reality games and experiences need to include three-dimensional images that seem life-sized to the user. It also needs to be able to track a user’s head and eye movements. At the same time, it needs to adjust the images to reflect the way the perspective has changed. Objects should be able to be viewed from any angle to create a convincing experience. Sensory stimulation must be consistent if the user is feel fully immersed and should adjust in real time. Otherwise, the user will quickly become aware that it is not real. To be really effective though, being immersed is not enough – you must feel able to interact too – otherwise it is just like watching a film.
Most Virtual Reality games and systems are powered by PCs, which can develop and run the software necessary to create such virtual environments. Massive teams of people from numerous companies have been developing and tweaking computer code and algorithms. Designers have been working on complex graphics and audio for years to produce such advanced equipment. Literally dozens of devices have been designed to try and achieve a great Virtual Reality experience.
These engineers and designers would all have studied STEM subjects and have built themselves really cool careers. If designing virtual environments and the equipment to make them seem like a reality sounds like something you might like to do in the future … choose A Level Maths and Physics – the next step to landing a career in virtual reality games!
And if you’re wondering if the reverse is true, and that maybe it’s real-life that’s actually the computer game, try watching this video!