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Are VR esports going to become a thing?


This is a guest post by Virtual Reality developer Hugh Hancock, creator of VR horror RPG Left-Hand Path.

In the discussion of my last post, Philippa Cowderoy and Geoff Hart brought up an interesting question around esports in VR. Will e-sports in VR ever become a thing?

I was actually there at the start of the dawn of esports as a whole - I ran "News From The Front", a website which covered the competitive Quake scene back in 1996. (It may actually have been the first dedicated esports news site in the world.) And more recently, I've gotten back into PvP games and esports with the game DOTA2, which has consumed an enormous amount of my time over the last year or so.

And, of course, I'm a virtual reality developer by trade - my first VR game, the horror/rpg Left-Hand Path, left Early Access and entered full release last Friday. I should stress at this point that I don't have a professional dog in the esports race: I'm mostly interested in creating single-player experiences, often with heavy RPG bents. Whilst Left-Hand Path is certainly difficult, inspired as it is by Dark Souls, it's not PvP, and my next major game will probably also be a single-player experience. So I have no financial interest in pushing the whole VR esport concept.

Nonetheless, the esport question is fascinating to me. In five years, will we be seeing the equivalent of The International in VR?

We're further along than you might think

Well, in actual fact you could have watched this year's International in VR. DOTA2 has had a VR spectator mode available for some time. It's not quite ready for prime time yet - I still prefer the big-screen-with-snacks approach to DOTA game watching - but it's evidence that VR's advancing on the esport thing much faster than you might think.

In fact, there's been an esport tournament in VR in just the last week.

Eleven, the spookily-accurate VR table tennis sim, just held its first Virtual Reality tournament, in which 32 players around the world competed in a completely virtual space. From all reports, the tournament went off very well, and more similar contests are likely to be on the way.

Meanwhile, other VR games are already popular and esport-ready. Onward, which is essentially Counterstrike in VR, has a peak concurrent player count of around 100 every day, making it one of the 10 or 11 most popular VR experiences on Steam of any kind. Players report spending hours in-game sniping at each other.

And Echo Arena, a weird-but-cool zero-G Frisbee game, is probably even more popular. Concurrent player numbers are hard to acquire because it's on the Oculus platform, but it has certainly sold well and gotten breathlessly positive reviews even from non-gamers.

Many other VR games boast popular coop modes, from zombie-blaster Arizona Sunshine to forearm-punishing archery game Elven Assassin. Some of them are even effectively coop-only: the king of those experiences is the blisteringly popular Star Trek: Bridge Crew, as immortalised in this Penny Arcade comic strip

There are already a lot of people in VR competing or cooperating.

But Why Would You Want A VR E-Sport?

It's very important to clearly hold one dichotomy in your head when you're thinking about VR entertainment as a whole.

These things simultaneously are computer games - fast, fun, violent, and not limited by reality - and aren't computer games. They're physical experiences, using an interface that's far, far closer to Real Life than the gamepad-mediated world of computer gaming.

The crossover makes games like Eleven or Sports Bar VR (a pool simulator) incredibly powerful. If you can play table tennis, you can play Eleven. Absolutely no computer gaming experience required. And the experience is very much like playing table tennis with a friend - it feels right, it's fun, it's a good social experience - but doesn't require the two of you to be present in the same physical space.

Added to that, head-and-hands visualisation of another person turns out to be surprisingly powerful in communicating presence. It's much better even than a video call in many ways: these abstract avatars combined with voice give a very strong illusion that you're in the same physical space. A good physical representation of the space you're in helps even more, as does a powerful shared context - that's why table tennis, pool, or Star Trek all work so well.

So if nothing else, VR offers the chance to play pool with your friends on another continent, whenever you want. That's a pretty world-changing offer all by itself.

VR is also, by its nature, physical. For some people that's a downside: they want to play games at rest, sitting on a couch. But for other people - and I'm very much in this category - having a video game which actually requires you to move your body is a massive plus. These esports are sports - I've sweated so much playing gladiatorial game GORN that my headset started having problems with the sweat drips.

That's a hell of a lot of fun, but more than that, it's an effective form of exercise. You can get "gassed" boxing opponents in Thrill Of The Fight almost as much as in real life: I've watched a Tae Kwon Do black belt play that game, and he was definitely puffing and sweating after a few rounds.

But at the same time, it's still a game. There's none of the tedium of running on a treadmill - even if you are literally running on a treadmill. Just like playing a real-life sport, it's very easy to get lost in the experience - in fact, even more so than most sports. And unlike real-life sports, these VR esports have far less physical limitations and are available whenever you want to play them. I can't jump up and play a game of zero-G Frisbee, or a tense round of gladiatorial combat, in real life - but I can be doing either of those things in five minutes from the desk at which I'm currently sitting.

That's not only cool and fun, but also pretty impactful on physical fitness. If I'd spent all the hours that I spent playing DOTA last year doing something requiring physical activity, I'd be athlete-level fit. (Particularly given the competitive gamer mantra of "git gud". If you tie the DOTA world's MMR rating to their physical fitness, there would actually be a noticable world uptick in fitness amongst that demographic.)

Indeed, my work on Left-Hand Path has definitely impacted my physical fitness. It's not primarily designed as a fitness game, but dodging away from monsters, rapidly drawing symbols in the air, and squatting to touch your staff to the ground for various rituals all adds up. I would not be surprised if my move from animation (sedentary as hell) to VR has added a couple of years to my life expectancy.

A couple of commenters asked about injury potential, and I've been asked elsewhere about fatigue in VR too. As far as I'm concerned, fatigue is a feature not a bug, for the reasons listed above. I like gaming anyway, but if it also happens to cause a reduction in my likely all-cause mortality, that's a pretty good bonus.

And as for injury: VR gaming won't end up more intense than equivalent real-world sports. If the populace at large is safe playing football, or rugby, or training Brazilian Jujitsu, they'll be OK doing equivalent things in VR too. (Although we may have to start building in "seriously, go get a glass of water" warnings!)

So what does the future hold?

It's mostly here, just not evenly distributed. As usual.

As mentioned above, I can already call my friends in New York and challenge them to a casual game of table tennis. That's considerably world-changing. In a world where people move around more and more, and travel is both ecologically dodgy and increasingly expensive, being able to hang out with friends around the world in a well-simulated physical space is pretty astonishing, and as time moves forward I think it'll be one of the major selling points of VR.

Microsoft just bought the social VR app Altspace, and the equivalent Rec Room is gathering VC funding at a rate of knots. VR tournaments are just getting started, and they'll get bigger and bigger - not least because, as physical sports, they'll make pretty good viewing too. If the guys making Echo Arena aren't working on a broadcaster / spectator mode I'd be very surprised.

(It may be noted that another key problem in 2017 is loneliness, and engaging in physical sports with other people is an excellent way of making new friends. )

There's no reason that the social esports have to be limited to high-physical-activity, either. Poker would be a very obvious candidate for a VR edition, and a VR poker game would overcome many of the issues of playing poker online. There's still enough physical movement to attempt to read opponents - eye trackers are just around the corner too - and in VR it will be a much more social experience than playing on a flat screen. (This is another one of those "if I wanted to be really, really rich..." moments - but I'm busy! Also, some Googling turns up the first VR casino, which has already appeared.)

Tracked peripherals are just on the cusp of arriving too, and they're going to have a massive impact. I've had the developer versions of HTC's "tracker" pucks for a few months now, which allow you to add physical objects to your VR space and track them to milimeter accuracy, and they're enormously powerful.

Just being able to track your feet adds a whole new level of interaction and immersion. But more than that, you can use them to track objects for esports. Here's an article about tracking a golf putter, for example - it's immediately clear that the increase in quality of experience is huge.

Indeed, I can see golf alone pushing the popularity of VR some way. It's expensive, it has a large, fanatical fanbase, and VR's very well-suited to simulating it.

And then you've got the total-immersion stuff. The first VR MMO is just around the corner, promising a release into Early Access in December. It already has a small but extremely enthusiastic community, and I'd expect that to explode once it arrives.

An MMO in VR will be a totally different experience to one on a computer, with a great deal more physical presence. I'd expect people to make friends more easily, grief and flame less, and feel more like they're physically present with each other. This could be the thing that sparks an explosion in VR uptake as a whole - after all, MMOs like WoW have form for that sort of exponential growth. And as it develops, it'll start to evolve away from the conventional MMO, and more into something that combines the best parts of MMOs and "field LARP" experiences like the UK's Empire LARP.

Beyond that? The major esports companies must at least be keeping tabs on VR - it's a toss-up as to which game attracts a signficant prize money tournament, but it'll happen. I'd guess that event is 2-3 years away, perhaps less.

And then we'll have a new form of esport. It won't replace flat-screen gaming - instead, it'll be something entirely new. Probably something that doesn't even draw from the same pool of players as conventional esports. We may see one or more physical sports develop a thriving esport arm - my money's on golf or table tennis there.

It'll be an exciting - and sweaty - evolution.

What do you think? Will VR esports become a thing? If so, when, what and why?

81 Comments

1:

There are other uses for exactly the same technology, too. One is training soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, as well as soldiers, acrobats and others for other physical which are too dangerous to do for real until you CAN do them properly. Similarly, training athletes and disabled people in the right use of their muscles, especially following strokes and other injury.

So, yes, probably. Sometime.

2:

Rehab: oh, that's exciting - most of this I knew about already, but I hadn't considered the uses of VR in rehab.

Very, very cool - that could be huge.

3:

Not necessarily "rehab", but "useful for healthcare purposes", there's been a car driving simulation rig (basically front half of a car, probably some sort of six-axis motion table, plus plenty of large screens) for both "are you safe to drive" and "this is why you're not safe to drive" evaluation at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm for quite a while now.

IIRC, the primary use was to demonstrate why certain types of neurological or age-related illness was a BAD match for driving. And being able to re-assess people, in an environment where any dogs or children run over are purely virtual.

4:

Oh wow. That's a fantastic use for the technology.

5:

Ingvar's post reminds me that they are also using models for training surgeons, but VR might well work better.

6:

Actually a spin-off of driving simulators from driving schools (at least the first rig was exactly the same stuff as used in driving schools), tested out by a couple of doctors who were starting to get really annoyed at having to file license revoking papers for patients with (temporary) cognitive impairments, since that would require a full re-licensing run afterwards.

But since they didn't really appreciate how horribly their driving had been impacted, being able to demonstrate it lead to a lot less "driving while not recovered".

7:

I think you're quite right in the "training athletes" aspect of VR as a tool - particularly around the area of "doing things slowly but correctly", in a static sense.

The Wii had a board sensor that you stood on, and measured shifts in your CofG - this allowed WiiFit to do yoga-like training exercises where your performance in fine motor control could be fed back immediately. You could achieve rather more in balance-critical sports with such a rig (I used to do some training for my sport on a wobble-board; this kind of thing was regarded as high-end stuff for the advanced athlete, but as with all coaching, the earlier you introduce "doing it right", the better).

I'm not so sure about the use for soldiers, however - the "full contact" stuff [1] can currently be trained with pads, padding, and a partner / coach; and works very well. Given the necessity of feedback in such situations, I really wouldn't trust a VR rig to apply force back at me. Doing armlocks, chokes, and strangles at Judo on a Monday night is fine with a training partner [2], trusting a machine not to break me is another matter entirely.

[1] You'd be surprised how little unarmed-combat stuff is trained in normal soldiering - it tends to suggest that you've rather failed at the armed-combat end of the spectrum, and has only gained a niche in COIN scenarios when "just kill it" isn't seen as a universally acceptable response.

[2] To those on this site who politely doubted our sanity when I mentioned my wife and I taking up Judo in our late 40s (to share the sport with our sons), we're now over two years in and still enjoying it. The boys laugh at our poor form and laughable skills, and we've only fractured one rib and a few toes between us...

8:

Rehab, fitness, physical training for unusual and potential risky tasks (surgery, mountain climbing, disarming a bomb, etc.) - all great.

However, if you bring this VR scenario into the online zone, just how much Internet bandwidth would such activities consume?

Related to bandwidth is signal latency - I'm guessing that online mediated VR (if that's the correct term) would also have to continually monitor the network for outages which seem to be getting more frequent in my area.

9:

I read the title as "Are VR escorts..." which led me down a whole different train of thought :). Having taken up over-40s football (US: soccer) this year and been injured twice, I would be very into a VR environment for 'team' practice or even just exercise that's less boring that a treadmill.

10:

As the original poster who suggested that the risk of injury was significant, it seems worthwhile reiterating that point but with considerably more nuance.

If you look at how the Star Trek holodeck works, or consider other examples such as the WestWorld robots, the X-Men's danger room, or the sparring robot in Zelazny's "This Immortal", you'll see that each of these examples of various flavors of VR includes a feature that lets you set the level of danger (i.e., the risk of injury) that you're prepared to accept: this can range from no pain through significant pain to injury or even death. Many plots hinge on this governor feature being somehow disabled, thereby exposing the characters to existential threats. Given the reliability of complex software, this fiction seems a plausible extrapolation.

This ties in to the degree of "reality" in the virtual reality. As others noted in the original post, most people will use VR gaming, including e-sports, as a no-risk, low-physical-impact recreational activity. The emphasis is on fantasy, not reality. And in those cases, as Hugh noted in the original post, the risk of injury is low, other than perhaps overuse injuries (which I suspect are under-reported due to the embarrassment factor). The problem I was proposing -- a significant risk of injury -- arises when we move strongly towards the reality side of the spectrum. The more we move towards reality, the greater the risk of injury -- as in the case of my father crashing his plane in a high-end flight simulator. He ached for days afterwards.

The martial arts example is telling: If the fantasy is fighting an elite opponent and winning, then the realism must be greatly decreased if you are not yourself an elite martial artist. (This is true of any VR.) That is, you shouldn't expect to beat Bruce Lee, Jet Li, or J-C Van Damme in a fight if you can't (in reality) compete at their level. That would simply be unrealistic -- thus, virtual unreality! If they're slowed down enough for someone like me to fight them on even terms, it's an unrealistic simulation, but probably a lot more fun for us amateurs.

Hugh also asked the question of why one might want to play realistic e-sports games. My motivation would be for hockey, about which I've been passionate for more than 45 years. I used to play a lot, and I was *good* at the game; more than physical ability, I brought hard-earned smarts to the game. The last times I played, I could frequently beat younger players by outsmarting them. Now, at the age of 55, the accumulation of 45 years worth of damage from an active life (most of it not hockey-related) has made it impossible for me to apply the skills I learned at the desired level: the spirit is willing, the training is adequate, but the flesh is weak. I can still beat the younger guys most days, but they can come back the following day (when I'm limping like someone who was hit by a truck) and play again at the same level of intensity. I'd dearly love to play truly immersive VR hockey so that my spirit can accomplish what my flesh is no longer capable of.

11:

Not a fighter, but I agree that soldiers doing less lethal combatives gets weird. Of course, it's not as weird as "(expletives deleted), you just opened fire on a bunch of unarmed, nonviolent protestors and flushed your leader's hearts and minds campaign into the sewer." There's a good reason for the full spectrum of force to be employed, from chatting to nuclear war.

That said, I think the bouncers at the bars and the MPs tasked with patrolling the living areas are all a bit jaundiced by the unarmed combatives training at the local bases (remember, I live in San Diego...). These groups see that training deployed most often in bar fights (generally after every refresher course) and in domestic violence situations (ditto). Not sure whether this is apocryphal or not, but it does point out some of the problems of being unable to separate the warrior from his weapons at the end of the training day.

12:

Now that I'm thinking about it, there seem to be all sorts of properties that could be turned into escorts. Excuse me, esports. VREsports. Whatever.

Anyway, in no particular order:
--Anything with an exoskeleton, from Starship Troopers to Iron Man to Halo
--Anything Mecha, from Gundam and Macross to Pacific Rim (there's even a decent Mecha fight game in Dream Park)
--Ender's Game
--Heck, you could probably figure out a way to do a decent multiplayer jousting game, if you start by rerigging a mechanical bull...

Of course, the real fun begins when VR undergoes syngamy with EVE Online.

13:

The martial arts example is telling: If the fantasy is fighting an elite opponent and winning, then the realism must be greatly decreased if you are not yourself an elite martial artist.

This is where sports/performance psychology rears its head...

The healthy focus with any sport should be on performance, not results. You don't want to focus on "winning a competition", you focus on "performing well in the competition". If the performance is good, the winning will happen anyway; if the performance isn't so good, winning is irrelevant.

If you take the "real" champions, the consistently successful ones; if you talk to them after a match, they tend to focus on where they could improve; if they made mistakes, and what they learned as a result. They're really only competing against themselves, and as a result they keep improving. Of course, this doesn't go down well with most sports reporters - they want a "human interest" story about how said champion is Over The Moon, Brian, We Played With Passion and Carried The Day, We Knew The Supporters Was Cheering Us On.

So: "beating Bruce Lee"? Only of interest as fantasy; for the result-oriented individual looking for external validation, rather than the performance-oriented individual looking for self-satisfaction. In other words, games that let you pretend that you're better than you are, are promoting an unhealthy attitude to sport...

14:
The healthy focus with any sport should be on performance, not results. You don't want to focus on "winning a competition", you focus on "performing well in the competition". If the performance is good, the winning will happen anyway; if the performance isn't so good, winning is irrelevant.

So, I occasionally (well, weekly) grab a rapier (and occasionally other offensive and defensive tools for the off hand) and try to plant the point in the other person.

While I'm not super-active on "the competetive circuit", I do end up spending at least a few hours every few months sparring with people having a vast experience, and as long as I can track my skill improving, I'm well chuffed. And I guess as long as I don't track my skill dropping, I'll be perfectly content with that.

15:

You know more than me about military training, but judo was NOT what I meant. The rules of that specifically forbid injuring your opponent, and its purpose is merely to defend yourself or subdue your opponent(s); it comes as close as any 'martial art' does to being a non-violent one. I was thinking more of when knives, machetes, hatchets etc. were involved - e.g. training someone to defend themselves against or subdue a lethally armed and murderous opponent, preferably without killing them. Perhaps I should have said 'police'.

On another of your points, I also regret that sports are so often treated as zero-sum games - some of that is because of the dominance of the media and the fact that most sports are the modern equivalent of gladiatorial contests, but it's not as simple as cause and effect. You can see that particularly clearly in cycling, where the dominance of the ridiculously impractical UCI-style road racing has completely distorted the public perception, design and availability of cycles, and more in both the USA and UK. I don't see VR as being relevant to that, though.

Indirectly related to that, even the theoretically best 6 degree of freedom movement simulator can model only brief (i.e. short-range) actions, which is often not realistic. And it is necessarily going to be large and heavy, beyond most home use, because of the need to accelerate at least 100 Kg at at least 1g. So, while I do see VR esports and other uses happening, I can't see them being used by more than a few people, at least in the forseeable future.

16:

You can see that particularly clearly in cycling, where the dominance of the ridiculously impractical UCI-style road racing has completely distorted the public perception, design and availability of cycles, and more in both the USA and UK.

I'm not in USA or UK, and don't watch cycling at all, but I'm quite happy that cyclocross is a thing - I bought my current bike a few years ago, it's obviously a cyclocross bike, and I like quite lot. When I bought my previous one there just wasn't anything quite like it at least in my price range, so I did have more options later because of a style of cycling competitions.

17:

Interesting points, and thanks for expanding!

On the subject of the competence of your opponents: it's worth noting that the most successful VR melee combat simulator so far, GORN, has completely, laughably incompetent opponents. That seems to have been part of its charm - en masse they still provide a reasonable threat, but you also feel like a badass whilst fighting them.

18:

Morpheus in The Matrix: "Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?"

I doubt that physical fitness and exercise will be important to VR sports players.

There's no benefit in doing muscle work for VR. You'll be as strong as your avatar is programmed to be (or can be hacked). And you're not taking physical hits, so don't need muscles to limit damage.

There's some benefit in stamina and endurance. But most sports, especially professional sports, limit each game to a couple of hours at most. The only exception I can think of straight away is Test Cricket, but that draws neither the audience numbers nor financial rewards for players that the couple of hours 20/20 cricket does.

But fast, precise movements are essential to computer games now and VR will be no different. Why bother learning to swing a sword with full hip - shoulder - arm - wrist rotation when you can twitch a finger and have that translated by the computer into the equivalent motion? Anticipation and reaction will be more useful - see Martin's comment about shooting in FPS games vs shooting in real life.

I think the exercises most likely to benefit VR athletes will be whatever piano players and other musicians do.

19:

I suspect that fitness (and to some extent muscle mass) will be important for VR players. Primarily to preserve precision. Your precision is shot way before your ability to continue is.

20:

I have no problem with that but, to reduce the risk of communication failure, I was referring to the campaign (and it was and, to some extent still is, a campaign) to denigrate cycling as a form of transport and promote it as SOLELY a pure athletic sport. There is a very high correlation between the countries where that was not attempted or failed and where there is a high use of cycling. This is irrelevant to this thread, so I shall not continue, but it is relevant to some others.

My point relates to #13. It should be performance, not results, but not necessarily in the sense of maximimising it. I would like to be able to climb hills faster, but my objective is touring; in the past, it was often utility (e.g. commuting). VR training is relevant to the many people like me only to do something we couldn't otherwise do, or if it would help us do a LOT better. So, as an adjunct to physiotherapy, yes - but not on a routine basis.

#19 is relevant here, too, as is #3 - training precision (including reflexes, balance etc.) is as important as training strength and endurance. It is REALLY dispiriting - I speak from considerable experience :-( - to repeatedly and completely fail, only to be told by others (including 'instructors') that you just need to practice. It would be far better to practice in a less demanding environment, and tighten it up as you get better. Or learn that it will be forever beyond you ....

Immersive games are another matter. Given the opportunity, I would quite like to try one :-)

21:

VR training is relevant to the many people like me only to do something we couldn't otherwise do, or if it would help us do a LOT better. So, as an adjunct to physiotherapy, yes - but not on a routine basis.

Or to someone who lives in a place where training is difficult. Trying to keep up you cycle training in Edmonton is tricky during the winter. Sure, there's stationary bikes, but a VR would be more interesting. I know I'd be more inclined to practice if I could do so in more interesting surroundings.

Maybe training is the wrong word to use — I just think that anything that makes exercise into something fun and not a chore can't be all bad.

22:

Taking for granted that the gadget tech will work, what about the issue of 'world-ownership', i.e. ownership (and policing) of the virtual spaces that people plug into with the gadgets. Taking social media and IoT as examples of how things pan out, one can predict that there won't be a single accessible metaverse, but instead a collection of walled gardens, potentially with some degree of device lock-in.

So, in terms of VR sports, especially multi-player, it seems to me that the contests / arenas may reside in the VR equivalent of facebook/whatsapp/snap-type ecosystems, and will be fragmented as a result. This won't stop the tools/worlds being useful or popular, but may limit takeup, and create barriers to entry for non-mainstream sports / hobbies (anyone for 'snookerverse'?) unless they align themselves with the key world owners / curators.

23:

Yebbut. It depends on what you mean by VR. Full surround audiovisual is simple today, but either takes 3x the space of a static cycle and large screen, or needs an obtrusive helmet. So let's assume lightweight googles and headphones by 2025. But is that enough to provide a major advantage over just a large screen etc.?

Wind effects are fine in theory, but are very unrealistic on less than a whole room per rider, because fans don't feel like wind, but also depend on the individual rider's speed and direction, and are incompatible with a VR helmet. More subtle tactile effects (rain, insects etc.) are a long-term research project. Smells are even further in the future.

The feel of a bumpy road isn't too hard, nor is the feel of going up and down slopes, but needs a heavy or firmly-fixed base - not easy for home use. More general feel (e.g. cornering) needs a much larger and heavier machine, and will be unrealistic at best.

Cycling actually gets away lightly with the last. Walking on a moving belt isn't anything like walking on the ground.

24:

You'll train your arm strength for the same reason that DOTA players get good at stutter-stepping to block creeps: because the requirement is built into the game's rules.

Speaking as someone currently actively developing a melee-based VR game, there is precisely zero chance I allow players to fight by flicking their fingers. Full arm motion will be required. I want this thing to feel like a swordfight, not Thumb Wars.

It is, of course, possible that the first eSport in VR that gets popular is a stationary one, but judging from the successful titles in the medium so far (like Echo Arena and GORN), I doubt it.

25:

You may find this startup very interesting:

https://www.virzoom.com/

It's a piece of cycle-based hardware used as a VR fitness gaming platform.

26:

Chances are that the form will evolve in broadly the same way as conventional eSports in that regard.

(Let's take a moment to appreciate that we live in a world where the phrase "conventional eSports" has meaning :) )

Most of the popular eSports are either free apps (DOTA, LoL) or accessible for one comparatively affordable purchase (Overwatch, Rocket League). Many of them have millions/tens of millions of active users.

There's no requirement to be a member of "tabletennisverse" if you want to compete in Eleven, for example, on the VR end. You just buy and download Eleven and associated software, and get going. Likewise, aside from a (free) Steam subscription, no need to be a member of MOBAverse to play DOTA.

The economics of eSports strongly encourage the creators of those games to make them as accessible as possible: inverse square law strongly applies. So I doubt we'll see many more barriers than exist in the eSport scene currently.

27:

The Web site isn't exactly informative, unfortunately. Is it vision-only?

28:

"anything that makes exercise into something fun and not a chore"

I deny that anything of that kind can exist :)

I like walking up hills and things, but I don't like the getting knackered aspect of it; it's just something that has to be put up with in order to do the enjoyable thing at all. But at the same time the realness is also important; a VR Wales with configurable gravity would always be less appealing than the real Wales with standard gravity, no matter how good the simulation was, simply because it was a simulation. On the other hand I probably would be happy with the real Wales plus a mini-zeppelin on a harness to support the majority of my weight (ignoring, for the sake of the point, windage and other practical difficulties).

29:

Oh, I would want a sword fighting game to feel like a swordfight too. But to me, the more a game demands in physical capabilities from the players, the less accessible it becomes, conflicting with your goal at #26.

If players with longer arms have an advantage in a VR sword fight, there's going to have to be some kind of grading process with separate competitions or leagues so kids don't end up being slaughtered by adults.

Not to mention that if you require full arm swings, you are excluding the elderly / injured / disabled. Who would probably really enjoy being able to swordfight because it's something they can't do in real life. Seems a shame to lock them out.

30:

"...the case of my father crashing his plane in a high-end flight simulator. He ached for days afterwards."

I find this puzzling. For a start, I don't see how a simulator that is actually capable of inflicting injuries manages to get past either a normal person's desire not to injure others, or an arsehole's desire to not be sued for it. Also, it must surely require a bunch of extra features and capabilities purely for the purpose of inflicting injuries, since there's not a lot that can happen to you when you're just harnessed into a seat with no things that can come at you or anything. And on top of that, what is the point? Flying an aeroplane isn't supposed to hurt; if you get into a situation where it does hurt, it means the aeroplane has either stopped flying or is just about to, and either way it isn't going to hurt for very long. There isn't anything useful about that part of the experience, and it would make a lot more sense to just flash up "game over" when the plane is about to hit the ground than to go to all the trouble and risk of trying to simulate it hitting.

31:

Martin noted an important difference in how people see "competition": some see it as a way to improve their performance, but others are only interested in winning. I don't think this is necessarily a UK vs. North American difference, but I must say that here in Canada (observing the U.S. from a safe distance), I see far more of the "winning is all" attitude in the U.S. than the "so long as we played well it's all good" attitude. The actual balance isn't important for the sake of this thread; what's more important is that both extremes exist, and most people probably oscillate between them at different times. For example, I've played hockey with guys I was happy just to keep up with, and with guys who made me want to beat them at just about any cost.

Pigeon questioned my anecdote about Dad and the flight simulator: "I don't see how a simulator that is actually capable of inflicting injuries manages to get past either a normal person's desire not to injure others, or an arsehole's desire to not be sued for it."

The point of the simulator was to provide a realistic a flying experience as possible. So, for example, if you hit an air pocket in the simulator, the cabin instantly dropped 5 feet (I'm speculating wildly about the actual distance here) and then returned to its original position just as fast; you needed to be able to retain control of the aircraft and your lunch when that happened. Similarly, if you descended too fast, you jarred your teeth when you hit the runway. I assume the logic was that this motivated performance improvements far more strongly than a flashing red light that said "game over". I suspect this ties into Martin's comment about different reasons for playing a sport. Avoiding "game over" will be sufficient motivation for some, but not for others.

Pigeon: "Also, it must surely require a bunch of extra features and capabilities purely for the purpose of inflicting injuries"

No extra features required. The injuries were purely a consequence of striving for realism: when the cabin changes direction radically, the resulting jerk is what causes the damage to your body. "It's not a bug; it's a feature."

I have to assume, not having ever seen the actual simulator, that the company's lawyers were very careful in deciding what level of painful feedback was safe. For example, Dad told me about trying to do an instrument landing in fog. When he dropped beneath the fog, he discovered to his horror that he wsa upside down 50-some feet above the runway. (He lost track of the automatic horizon, during a steep turn, apparently.) The simulator did not actually invert the cabin and break his neck, as that would have been (a) difficult to simulate and (b) largely pointless in the context of training. But it scared the crap out of him and taught him a valuable lesson.

32:

a VR Wales with configurable gravity would always be less appealing than the real Wales

But much, much drier..

33:

Short form - I'm a skeptic about using VR to simulate martial arts. As a part-task trainer, perhaps.

You know more than me about military training, but judo was NOT what I meant. The rules of that specifically forbid injuring your opponent, and its purpose is merely to defend yourself or subdue your opponent(s); it comes as close as any 'martial art' does to being a non-violent one. I was thinking more of when knives, machetes, hatchets etc. were involved - e.g. training someone to defend themselves against or subdue a lethally armed and murderous opponent, preferably without killing them. Perhaps I should have said 'police'.

Until I took up Judo, I'm not afraid to say that I misunderstood the difficulties inherent in the unarmed martial arts (being built for endurance, not power, I rather focussed on my advantages - namely, being "good with rifles").

Judo, like professional boxing, is full-contact, full-strength, full-speed - Monday night training leaves me utterly drained (particularly as I'm one of the lightest males in the class). Judo just forbids blows and kicks (although a mis-timed leg sweep can really hurt). In competition, you are using everything you have in strength, not just in skill. It doesn't forbid injury - it forbids deliberate injury, which is rather different. Each of our sons has had a trip to hospital during competition, one on a backboard; across the family we've had broken fingers, toes, and a rib; and firstborn won his recent Scottish title with a nose plugged and taped up after his first fight, to stop him bleeding all over the mat...

Look up atemi-waza if you doubt me; or consider that there is a very, very small difference between using your full upper-body strength to expose and gain an elbow lock on your opponent for a submission; and pressing just a teensy bit harder to snap the elbow, dislocate the shoulder, or carry on the choke hold into unconsciousness and beyond. A throw under control onto a lightly-padded mat is rather different in outcome from a throw without restraint onto hard floor or pavement. Judo can break or cripple people, just like most other martial arts.

Note, however, that most such arts are focussed on the sport, rather than utility in combat. Karate is largely a non-contact sport (as my black-belt-in-Shotokan best man put it, sometimes you get the distances wrong); amateur boxing, like competitive Taekwondo, can be about striking for points rather than landing crippling blows. Designing for a scorable competition can make for a certain artificiality; and endless "Top Trumps" discussions about, say, whether a boxer will beat a kung-fu exponent (i.e. "would Muhammad Ali beat Bruce Lee" - short answer, probably yes, because sixteen stone of muscle will snap nine stone of muscle).

When it comes to training against blades and clubs, this comprises a chunk of the more advanced Aikido training, using Bo and Sai (AIUI, the unarmed aspects of Aikido, with its emphasis on joint locks, informs a lot of the Army/Police "Arrest and Restraint Techniques"); and Escrima is, as I understand it, the Filipino simulation of fighting with machetes or similar-length blades, using sticks. Foil, Sabre, and Epee are progressively more realistic sword-fighting techniques. You don't need VR, just a blunted blade.

The best, and perhaps the only way to train in throws and holds and chokes and joint locks, is to work with a partner and gradually increase the skill, speed, and intensity of your efforts - allowing them to learn on you, just as you learn on them. If you need to do full-strength kicks and punches, then use pads.

A very interesting Norwegian documentary covered their decision to select women into Special Forces:
Jenter for Norge, Part 1 (link)
Jenter for Norge, Part 2 (link)
Part 2 covers some of the unarmed combat training; it gives you some insight into it "not being like in the films", but also how a military chooses to train soldiers without the option of spending hundreds of hours on a single rarely-used aspect (time is valuable - try balancing the training time needed to learn how to map read, against learning how to shoot, against learning how to operate a radio). Ask yourself how any VR equipment could, or could be trusted, to behave as effectively or as safely in such training.

However, when it comes to unarmed combat, anyone who is serious or curious should watch all ninety seconds of this very short clip (link). Mass wins - which is why any nine-stone policewoman facing down a fifteen stone aggressive drunk needs a baton or an asp, or several friends, and a vicious streak a mile wide (link). ;)

34:

Mass wins

...but not always, just mostly. Here's a rather skinny ex-Judo Czech Sumo wrestler, only 90-100kg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zjA3KPnLK8

35:

Martin noted: "Mass wins - which is why any nine-stone policewoman facing down a fifteen stone aggressive drunk needs a baton or an asp"

Not necessarily, and not even most of the time. A well-aimed blow to the throat will be every bit as effective for your nine-stone policewoman as it will be for a 15-stone martial artist -- though the policewoman would be cashiered if she relies on that approach for a day's work. The key point about the combat arts is to strike at weak points, not compete based on power. Joint locks work on that principle, and they work just fine for the tiny policewoman if she knows what she's doing.

My personal experience is with aikido, which was most to my taste because it's more about using the opponent's strength against them. I haven't practiced in years (I have joint problems make that particular art a poor choice for me given the number of joint locks in aikido), but at my peak, I was getting to the point where the throws I'd studied were subconscious and encoded in muscle memory. And they didn't rely on strength, though I'm a moderately big guy. Proof of that particular pudding was when some football players came to the dojo one evening and figured that all they needed to dominate us was their strength. I got paired with one guy who probably outweighed me by 50 pounds, had a couple inches reach and width and height on me, and knew it. We stepped together, he gave me a dismissive grin, sensei told us to begin, and next thing I knew football guy was lying on his back looking up at me with a look of terror. (Unhurt, but very, very surprised.) He left the dojo with his buddies and never returned.

I topped out about halfway up the belts (moved to a place where there was no aikido), so that's the result for a dedicated amateur. A real pro (brown or black belt) would be even more effective. Proof of that pudding came in the form of several small Japanese aikido-ka who occasionally attended our dojo and mopped the floor with us big guys.

36:

Having tried VR only once, at the weekend playing Robo Recall on the Oculus rift, my opinion is that VR sports will take off fully only when there is a reasonably cheap way of mimicking a treadmill that can operate in all directions, thus involving the lower body fully into the exercise. Of course you can get there in steps with games that involve jumping up over moving objects, or bending your body around in various ways, but they will always be hampered by the home user only having a couple of square metres in which to operate, or less. Sitting at a chair waving my arms around to shoot robots was entertaining but not as fully immersive as it could be.

There are other little touches that could help things, such as heavier hand controls thus exercising your muscles more and simulating a sword or gun better.

Geoff Hart #35 - the issue with British police anyway is that I'm not sure they get enough training to allow them to remain competent in any form of restraints or violence at all, not to mention the smaller and lighter the baton the easier it is for the attacker to ignore it.

37:

When I tried taking up judo (back in the 1960s), the formal rules were that, if you injured your opponent, you lost the match. I was absolutely terrible at it (I now know why), so have no personal experience of the higher levels, but I am pretty certain that the formal rules were fairly closely followed in practice. I knew some people who DID compete at higher levels, and injuries were very rare indeed. Yes, I know that things have changed.

38:

Similarly, if you descended too fast, you jarred your teeth when you hit the runway. I assume the logic was that this motivated performance improvements far more strongly than a flashing red light that said "game over".

Also you need to be able to control the plane when it's bouncing, and you need to experience the jarring so you can be ready for it. Pilot training in a simulator isn't just for the brain, you're also training muscle memory — and it's better to experience emergency situations and get your muscle memory drilled in safely.

39:

See also E M Garrud also known as the Suffragette who knew Ju-Jitsu here too ...
Good stuff.

40:

"Muscle Memory"
Can also be (maybe) a trap.
I learnt to cycle about my 11th birthday, & I'll be 72 in about 7 week's time & I'm still cycling a bit ....
Last year, I was offered a hour or so on a Segway - "no problem" thinks I - WRONG.
I lasted about 5-7 seconds.
The balancing & directional moves are so different ( & I think at times opposite to ) those used in bike-riding, that I jumped off, shaking ... & returned Segway to it's "handler".

Incidentally, he didn't seem suprised & we got our money back, on the spot, no questions.

41:

Not so much a trap as irrelevant. Reflexes ('muscle memory') take a long time to train but, once learnt, are never entirely forgotten. I am a couple of years' younger, but my balance is (almost certainly) much worse, and took up downhill skiing at 64. Most people learn to parallel ski in c. 30 hours - I took 150. You could learn to handle a Segway - if you were sufficiently motivated - but it would not be easy. Even I might be able to, though that's less clear.

Also, with regard to bruising etc., it's a serious mistake to classify them as as injury if you can recover in a day or two (at 20) or a week (at 70). You have to be able not to be put off or flinch at minor to moderate pain, not just jarring and other discomfort, and that means training your reflexes.

42:

Robert Prior noted the importance of muscle memory. Yes! Thanks very much for that insight. It makes very good sense. I still have muscle memory of some of my aikido kata, and remember how well muscle memory worked for steering my sailing dinghy through gusting winds -- very similar, I imagine, to the fluctuating forces pilots must control without having to think through each move.

43:

Re: Muscle memory & over-thinking

From personal experience, learning a new physical task is easier and faster when I don't 'over-think' what I'm doing. And it turns out that some coaches feel similarly.

Was watching an Olympic archery coach teaching a youngster. Progress seemed very slow at the time but results over several lessons were definitely there. Anyways - he had the student just focus on 'one action' at a time for that lesson: the correct stance, grip and breathing. Then add the next step (e.g., raise bow and arrow to correct height, tension/pull-back and aim) as the next one motion. The important part was to feel and remember how the correct action felt - not how far away the target was or doing any conscious mental calculation. Each step was repeated until each unit was performed smoothly and identically. Fatigue can ruin the 'learning', so it's important to stop before becoming overly tired (thereby sending contradictory messages into memory). Also a good night's sleep helps consolidate learning.

44:

That's also the point of using VR in something like a Pacific Rim slug-em-out. That's where you're the pilot of a giant mecha punching out whatever (kaiju, perhaps), using a full body suit to guide the actions of your giant machine. This has two advantages. One is that you can get around a lot of clunky VR feedback because you're moving a body that's much bigger than yours is (plus whatever fudging is necessary in the VR to make it "feel realistic."). Second, at least with Pacific Rim, they created a set for the mecha control room that was about one step away from a VR setup. The set even swayed, rose and fell quite a few feet. The basic point is that people have already worked with a lot of the precursors to a VR mecha game, so building the game is a lot easier than something like VR MMA.

Sadly, we're still a long way from Dream Park.

45:

Re: VR feedback vs. sensory perceptual strobing

Some newish research saying that our perception is based on how the brain uses oscillation/strobing rather than the previous notion of a continuous linear feed:

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-11-neuroscience-evidence-brain-strobing-constant.html

So whoever programs the VR might need to include some way of adjusting the 'VR experience' feedback to that of the user's brain strobing pattern. However being able to make such adjustments could still pose a health risk because the normal strobing range is not understood even though it's fairly well known now that a mismatch of 'strobing' may cause seizures in some folk.


How to prevent motion sickness in astronauts: use goggles timed to show fast 'snapshot views' instead of letting the astronaut see one continuous motion.

https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20110014765.pdf

46:

The mistake is to assume that there is “a” way to coach. I needed different coaches at different stages of my progress through the sport. Each was a necessary step, each gave me a lot. Now that I coach, I’m always trying to match approach to athlete...

In the Army squad, I was coached by an Olympic medallist who focussed on the environment and “just doing it” rather than on specific technique. In the National squad, I was coached by a multiple Olympic medallist who worked on specific technique, but was better at explaining how he’d done it, rather than what was best for you. In the National team, I was coached by someone who thought about things the way I did; and that’s when the big improvements arrived.

Each athlete may need a different coaching style. Analytical types react well to some analysis, and badly to “just do it”. A more mature athlete may react well to some freedom of choice and responsibility, and badly to over-direction or a perception that they’re being treated like a child (in a Commonwealth Games Village, the 16-year-old gymnasts, the 35-year-old shooters, and the 50-year-old bowlers can’t all be treated identically).

The obvious question about skill acquisition I asked the sports psych types is whether it’s better to do short training sessions more frequently, or longer sessions but further apart. Their answer at the time was that in the early stages of skill acquisition, the former was better; in the later stages, the latter...

47:

Actually, thinking about it a little more I remembered what I'd written on my blog when Pacific Rim first came out. The tl/dr is that kaiju are extremely valuable as sources of bizarre and valuable molecules (after all, they're physiologically impossible as we understand biochemistry and scaling), so rather than dealing with kaiju as threats to coastal cities that needs to be destroyed by any means available (the key trope of the genre), if kaiju were actually invading our world, we'd be killing them and rendering their corpses on an industrial scale. Heck, think about how many chemical plants we could shut down if all we had to do was render giant bodies. It's like outsourcing all your industrial waste production to another planet or something.

If you want to make mecha vs. kaiju a game of this scenario, have the mecha involved in, say, wrangling the kaiju so that they enters a rebuilt San Francisco Bay, there to be dispatched (I guess that's the big fight), then hauling the corpses to the breakers at the retooled Richmond oil refinery, where you get your rewards if you succeed, or have to deal with the consequences if you let your big mecha ass get pitched onto Berkeley. You could set the game anywhere really, the Thames Estuary, Shanghai, Tokyo Bay, Inverness and Loch Ness. Heck, you could set up leagues around each killing ground and have them compete with each other, maybe travel around to compete for the most and cleanest kills.

Call this game Ahab...

48:

Re your second paragraph: and how! Learning to ski at 64 as someone with a lifetime of adaptation to no vestibular function really showed the difference between the instructors who taught the pupil and those who taught the lesson :-)

49:

Muscle Memory can definitely be a trap.

Important thing I tell kids I coach: Practice does not make Perfect, Practice makes Permanent.

Practicing bad technique makes you worse. (bad frisbee throwing/catch technique in my case, since I coach Ultimate). That is why you need to focus in practice.

It's also why I'm dubious of claims you can "learn" physical skills in VR. Momentum, aerodynamics of real things, contact - these are extraordinarily hard to get right in a virtual environment.

Researchers who write algorithms to get virtual robots to walk in virtual environments find that they fall over when you get the real robot in a real environment. I was listening last night to a friend's funny stories about that with the EU entry for Xprize robotics. Things like how contact with the ground by the foot occurs are more complex than they seem. Learning in virtual environments will have similar issues.

50:

In English: "Prcitce makes perfect"
but the quivalent in German is subtly different: Ubung macht den Meister - "practice makes a master" ... "of the prcocess as-is" is implied ....

51:

Heteromeles wrote: The set even swayed, rose and fell quite a few feet. The basic point is that people have already worked with a lot of the precursors to a VR mecha game, so building the game is a lot easier than something like VR MMA.

A lot easier but alas a lot more expensive too. All the force feedback suits, simulator platforms that actually rock and shake, etc are mechanical devices. Which means motors and hydraulics and servos and other things that are largely unaffected by Moore's Law. There is progress, the film people can make better puppets and prosthetics than last century, but initial construction and changes are really slow compared to software.

Perhaps we could revive arcades? The first VR game I'm aware of was Dactyl Nightmare, which came out in the 1990s when VR was still too expensive for your home computer so the VR rigs were installed in malls and shops.

More important Hugh, do you think VR arcades are or could be a thing?

52:

Icehawk noted: "Muscle Memory can definitely be a trap."

Indeed, and in ways you might not expect. Two police officers from different forces told me that when officers train in the gym or dojo to disarm someone, they are now taught to carry the weapon off the mats or sparring area, as if they were putting it in their patrol car. Why? Because in gym training, they used to disarm their sparring partner and then hand back the weapon so they could immediately repeat the maneuver, thereby maximizing the number of repetitions they could do in their limited time in the gym. Officers were seriously injured in the field when muscle memory overcame common sense and caused them to hand the weapon back to the criminal.

That being said, the major benefits of muscle memory are that (i) it works faster than cognition because it doesn't have to go through all the brain's filters first, and (ii) it frees your mind to concentrate on strategic considerations rather than the position of your body.

On a less serious note, I heard an anecdote years ago about a graduate psychology seminar in which some wiseass students decided to condition their professor by paying careful and enthusiastic attention whenever he did something (if memory serves, touch his beard), but turn away and ignore him when he stopped doing what they wanted. After a couple weeks, they'd conditioned him to (touch his beard?) every time they paid attention. Too good to be true, so probably apocryphal.

53:

Officers were seriously injured in the field when muscle memory overcame common sense

AIUI, the RAF had a fatality in a Bulldog, in that the instructor and student had both a seat-back parachute, and a seat harness; each with a different style of release clip. The standard behaviour was to leave the parachute in the aircraft; and on exiting after a training flight, they would twist and release both harnesses.

Legend had it that on the one occasion that they had to abandon the aircraft, one of the pair allowed their muscle memory to follow through, and undid both clips before exiting... The standard drill was then changed such that everyone entered and left the aircraft on the ground while wearing their parachute, and only ever undid the seat harness while in the aircraft.

54:

All the force feedback suits, simulator platforms that actually rock and shake, etc are mechanical devices. Which means motors and hydraulics and servos and other things that are largely unaffected by Moore's Law. There is progress,

Actually there's been a lot of progress in actuators over the past couple of decades. Almost all small actuator systems have gone DC electric drive replacing compressed-air or hydraulic motors and actuators with added integral accelerometers and 3-axis gyros to provide exact feedback for PIV at a negligible financial cost and minimal mass loading of the actuators themselves. The control systems have also got a massive upgrade with onboard computing providing realtime feedback digital controls again at negligible financial cost and low mass requirements.

The Big Metal machines are going electric drive too but they're not cheap -- most new rocket engines use high-torque electric motor systems to swivel and pivot the nozzles rather than traditional hydraulic motors. This includes solid-fuel rocket motors in things like AA missiles giving them a faster response than traditional airfoil-only flight control systems.

55:

Re: 'sports psych types'

Curious whether these sports psych types ever discussed optimal vs. detrimental fatigue, rest and sleep.

56:

Very much so. From a sports perspective, it was assumed that sleep and stress were significant factors in both competition and training.

We were (strongly) encouraged to record that kind of detail in our training diaries; it’s something for the developing athlete, you’re expected to have a handle on it by the time you’re achieving some level of success.

A lot of this stuff is about the ecology of training, not just the immediate mechanism. You plan your training in macro/midi/micro-cycles; as ever, you might not stick to the original plan, but the act of planning is vital.

We (eventually, after much request) got a performance psychologist attached to our squad who did some very effective work with the team (one of his observations was that my wife and I were each other’s primary coach; we met through the national squad, and developed from being training partners). We did sports vision assessments. Being a touchy subject, we just about had a Media handler to ourselves[1]. We also had attached physiotherapy support, and a monthly physio assessment; they led the warmup/cooldown sessions on training camps, which was a shock to a few... Planks? Don’t talk to me about Planks....

That ecology is also the reason that they talk about “holding camps” at Commonwealth and Olympic Games - if you’ve just left your home and family, spent 24hours on an aircraft, and shifted 12 time zones; you’re not really fit to compete for a few days.

General Team Management have other problems beyond travel... e.g. if you’ve got your last competition the day before the Closing Ceremony, but you’re in the Games Village next to a house full of swimmers who finished on day 5 and are hitting the local nightclubs. You don’t want to see a boxer who’s just taken his first alcohol in six months, and you really pity the coach of the rhythmic gymnasts who is in loco parentis to a bunch of 15/16-year-old girls...

[1] On the tenth anniversary of the Dunblane mass-murder, they were announcing the result of the athlete’s election of the flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games; the Scottish athletes had voted for a Shotgun competitor, a former medallist, who had fought back from cancer to win his spot to compete at (IIRC his fifth) Games. The media team were twitchy about how the Scottish tabloid newspapers were going to handle that, and our sport generally. Fortunately, it’s hard for a tabloid to spin a grandmother who wins two gold medals...

57:

Re: '... the ecology of training, not just the immediate mechanism. You plan your training in macro/midi/micro-cycles;'

Like this perspective - ecology. A VR game that provided instruction and feedback based on real-life expert (sport & medical) knowledge about how the body works would be a selling feature. Interesting contest potential would be to have game-coached vs. human coached competitions.

Flag-bearer/tabloids - think the definition of a tabloid is the willingness to spin one data point into a whole story regardless of any contradictory facts. (Recall when Charlie posted that he was looking for a potential techie villain: media owners of tabloids written by AI specifically designed to generate fear and money would fit the bill.)

58:

I don't have a feel for what will prove popular, but I suspect that VR arcades (or, perhaps more likely, gym-arcade hybrids) will start appearing fairly shortly. Whether they will go the way of Google Glass or take off is less clear.

59:

Elderly Cynic suspects "...that VR arcades (or, perhaps more likely, gym-arcade hybrids) will start appearing fairly shortly".

They're already here, as least to some extent. Most stationary exercise equipment, such as treadmills and bikes, has a "simulated reality" mode. At the primitive end, this is nothing more than a way for the computer to vary the resistance to simulate real-world terrain (e.g., to increase resistance when you climb a mountain). At this level, there's little or nothing in the way of visual feedback. At the higher end, there are video screens that show varying degrees of simulated (computer graphics) or recorded (actual video) visuals that accompany the changes in resistance. They seem particularly popular for "spinning" bikes. No goggles required, but on the other hand, if you turn your head, you see the sweaty guy beside you, not the scenery you've just passed.

60:

...and of course driving simulators in arcades, with screens mounted in a long chassis carrying a car seat and controls instead of the usual cashpoint-style case, have been around for yonks.

61:

Pigeon noted: "and of course driving simulators in arcades"

Yes, but I was responding to Elderly Cynic's "gym" tie-in. The driving simulators don't really do much for the exercise component of VR.

Which in hindsight, I realize has been biasing my responses to the original essay and subsequent comments. I subconsciously emphasized the "real" in "virtual reality", forgetting that gaming (i.e., fantasy) is probably a much, much larger audience for VR.

63:

Back in the 1960s when I became old enough to drive a car, you were required to have a "Drivers Training" certificate to obtain your learners permit (which allowed you to drive a car during daylight hours with a parent or guardian in the vehicle).

The "Drivers Training" course was offered by the public school system during the summer recess (I think as a reason for a lucky few teachers to have pay-checks from year round employment). You could sign up for it if your 16th birthday would occur during the following fall term. The course consisted of 40 hours of classroom instruction followed by 20 hours of simulated driving in the Drivotrainer and finishing off with 20 hours of actual driving cars donated by local car dealers.

If you had your "Drivers Training" certificate, you could get your learners permit at 15 years 6 months of age and take your license test as soon as you turned 16. Without the certificate you had to wait until you turned 18 before you were allowed to take the test.

I guess the Drivotrainer was a primitive form of VR training.

65:

VR arcades are very much already a thing. There's one in Edinburgh, and I've had a good dozen licensing enquiries from other VR arcades around the world.

Whether, in the long run, they'll be successful is something I'm not sure about. We'll see over time!

66:

Hugh noted: "VR arcades are very much already a thing."

So here's the big question: What are the cardiovascular benefits of your horror VR? Could it be turned into the latest fitness fad, perhaps combined with a diet of raw human flesh -- the alt paleo diet? *gdrlh*

67:

Well, serious answer to this question: one of my borderline obsessions in VR is the physicality of the experience, engaging large muscle groups and proprioception, and so on. As a result, even though it's not intended as a fitness game, Left-Hand Path provides semi-decent cardio, particularly if you're using some of the spells that require you to dodge away, rapidly touch the ground, etc.

And I'm actually spitballing ideas with a friend who has professional fitness qualifications for either a VR or AR fitness app. All this alongside my next VR game which I explicitly intend to be a very physical experience - I mentioned swords above.

My guess is that focusing on VR as a fitness aid would actually be extremely profitable, and will be extremely profitable for the companies that do it. I'm in this for the art, not the money primarily, or I'd definitely have that on the shortlist as a higher priority.

After all: a VR-equipped PC and headset is pretty expensive as a toy, but it's pretty cheap compared to a treadmill or a decent multigym, or even a couple of years' gym subscription.

68:

Yebbut - I raised this before, but it got missed. Are those 'VR Arcades' audiovisual only, or more, and (if so) how much more? And what do you mean by 'equipping a PC'? 'Taint the app I am talking about, but the sensors to detect what the user is doing and (even more) motors and other kit to simulate outside forces. The software is easy (i.e. just a matter of a lot of hard work, including studying the physiological data), but the mechanical parts are not. I don't see VR equipment being even as cheap as a treadmill if it goes much beyond audiovisual.

I have some knowledge of and interest in this, because I balance entirely by touch and proprioreception, and I can assure you that just a few accelerometers are NOT going to cut the mustard!

69:

Hugh noted: "My guess is that focusing on VR as a fitness aid would actually be extremely profitable"

Definitely: there's a huge market for fitness and a huge market for video games, so there must be a decent overlap. As proof, I offer software/hardware combos like "dance dance revolution" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dance_Dance_Revolution), which show that there's a significant market for video games that get your lungs and heart moving fast. Or consider things like Tae Bo for people who don't live near a personal trainer; a virtual trainer would be just as good for some things.

There's also going to be a niche market for professional athletes. For example, young gymnasts who want to learn something dangerous like blind moves (e.g., backflips on a balance beam) could practice the move without risking a career-ending injury before they've got the underpinnings of muscle memory created. Or boxers who want to learn the basics of the punches and blocks without actually getting hit; boxing would be a great aerobic sport if it didn't involve repeated blows to the head. *G*

70:

Also, I'd love to be able to learn the rudiments of tai chi virtually, since I'm a slow but thorough learner and have to really work up the motivation to be willing to make a fool of myself in a class during the early learning curve. *G*

I imagine a bodysuit with a series of program-accessible contractile fibers that are triggered to remind you which part of your body should move next, and in what direction. As a proof of concept, you could probably get away with a suit that combines four such fibers (at 90° angles from each other) for each long bone in the body. Add more fibers, at more angles and for more muscles, in version 2.0 as you work out the bugs with version 1.0, and perhaps even aim for force-feedback by version 3.0 or 4.0.

71:

Games can make the otherwise banal seem fun. In this context, a decent VR design could transform a ride on an exercise bike into a breathless (scaled) escape through enemy lines with the Maguffin. Or change a drudge on a treadmill into a harrowing escape through a zombie apocalypse...

I'd be interested at least.

72:

Geoff, you can come pretty close by going to energyarts.com and doing his tai chi program.

The reason tai chi is an "internal" art is that you can't learn it just by watching someone do the moves (the definition of an "external" art). The nice thing about Bruce Frantzis (energyarts) is that he's really good at explaining the internal stuff, and his set is really short. So if you want to learn virtually and alone, it's the best option.*

But wearing a body suit in a VR environment to learn tai chi? You can where in space to put your limbs, but I'm not sure you can learn much more than that.

*Note, I've had to take a bunch of his other classes to figure out some of the stuff in his tai chi and I'm NOT a tai chi expert, but I can testify that I learned a bunch of stuff running through his courses on DVDs, stuff that made no sense when I took physical tai chi classes.

73:

Heteromeles noted: "But wearing a body suit in a VR environment to learn tai chi? You can where in space to put your limbs, but I'm not sure you can learn much more than that."

"External" is precisely the part I would want the bodysuit to help me learn. History suggests I can learn the internal aspects relatively easily, albeit with expert help at the beginning. (I've done enough aikido to grok the concept of internal vs. internal and get reasonably good at the internal.) For me, the problem is coordinating my body and limbs; once I have that coordination on its way to being stored in muscle memory, I find I can learn the internal aspects much more easily.

And there's no reason why body suit 9.0 couldn't help with the internal arts too. "It's just an engineering problem", right? *GDR*

74:

That's the mistake I made. It's better to learn the internal aspects first. Retrofitting movements learned wrong to match principles learned later is a pain (sometimes literally).

For example, if you want to learn tai chi correctly, I'd advise snagging one of the last copies of Wujishi and practicing that for a year (or go to energy arts and work on the standing qigong). That's not what I did, but the guy who did that actually was extremely good. Most of the highly skilled teachers advise that if you want to get good, you should do principle training first, posture training second, then either form or partner training. Almost everybody (looks in mirror) is sure that this is the wrong way for them to learn, so they learn forms first, learn it wrong, and either quit or struggle. The people who learn it correctly and get good are vanishingly rare.

So basically the question is, do you want to learn it correctly, or do you want to do what everybody else does, because they're sure they learn differently and they don't trust that the teacher is telling them the truth?

75:
Definitely: there's a huge market for fitness and a huge market for video games, so there must be a decent overlap
Wii Fit was the sixth most popular game on the Wii, so just maybe. :-P
76:
Or change a drudge on a treadmill into a harrowing escape through a zombie apocalypse...
*cough*Zombies, Run!*cough*
77:

That's the mistake I made. It's better to learn the internal aspects first. Retrofitting movements learned wrong to match principles learned later is a pain (sometimes literally).
Have to agree with this, though have never tried tai chi seriously. Regularly practice large and small motions including a traditional hard style, in the dark with eyes closed. Consider it a proprioception exercise (though it's more than that, yes) For some things vision(/visual cortex) (well mine at least) just gets in the way. E.g. for a familiar example, touch typing at full speed while watching the fingers/keyboard is generally bad idea. (I'm weak of mind and can't fully mentally track my fingers while touch typing. Working on it.)

Anyway, off topic but perhaps of interest to some, and VR will make it easier and faster:
Visually-Aware Fashion Recommendation and Design with Generative Image Models (7 Nov 2017) (via
This AI Learns Your Fashion Sense and Invents Your Next Outfit
We have presented a system for fashion recommendation that is capable not only of suggesting existing items to a user, but which is also capable of generating new, plausible fashion images that match user preferences. This suggests a new type of recommendation approach that can be used for both prediction and design.

(Maybe this has been spammed around already.) I have been imagining for the last hour how this will be gamed by tech-savvy fashion people, e.g. to hack the recommenders of fashion adversaries so that they commit absurd mockable fashion crimes. Also fun stuff; e.g. a collection of cosplay or furry outfits could be fodder for design recommendations.

78:

This kind of thing could revolutionize physical therapy (aka State Sponsored Terrorism, to quote Calvin). My stepmother was fanatical enough about bowling to work with her regular ball the day after she came home from breast cancer surgery, and ended up with a range of motion that her doctor bowed down and worshiped. But a pleasant game that began at easy levels and then increased the demands on higher levels in VR could easily get patients much more interested than in meatspace (where the main motivation to get better is a desire to strangle the perky therapist). Also, stroke rehab could easily be added to the repertoire. I know this repeats an earlier message, but I wanted to do into more detail.

79:

VR has shown up at this year's major Neuro Conference. Mostly it's imaging neuronal connections, but once the tech becomes more widely available (including affordable how-to seminars), no telling how it will help inform this field.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/technology-from-ldquo-harry-potter-rdquo-movies-brings-magic-of-brain-into-focus/

80:

Yesterday I was in a VR arcade the first time. It was a fun experience, we had an hour to play the games in the system. I climbed Mount Everest (and found a vertical wall to stand on), played some Gorn, and tried out a couple of other games, and Google Earth.

I had fun, but next time I'll bring my contacts, and make sure both of my arms are in good condition. My left arm is healing from a fracture and I can't and shouldn't use it very much, so that hindered me somewhat.

The main problem was the lack of support. The games didn't have that many instructions in-game, at least not easily found in the time I had, so it was kind of trial-and-error to figure out how they worked. The space station escape room game which name I have already forgotten seemed like a fun game, though I couldn't find that many things to interact with. The personnel at the arcade just said "this is a difficult game, you might find others more fun," but I would have liked to play a game which was difficult for other reasons than the annoyances in the UI.

I could've of course researched the games before going to play, but I think most of the arcade players might not do that. Many of the games were playable without instructions, though I did lose my sword in Gorn when I threw it at the opponents on the other side of the fence at the start. This made things a little difficult. I also couldn't figure out a way to configure my height in the ping-pong game and couldn't play it.

I had fun, though, and might go there a second time. It wasn't fun enough to splurge thousands of euros into my personal kit, especially as our living room is kind of small for this kind of thing. Il-2 Sturmovik I could probably fly even now with this, but the ski mask effect was annoying.

So, VR arcades might be a thing, but at least this one needs to teach their visitors better to get the more casual kind of people. If I were to play there often, I would of course learn the games, but it wasn't something you can just walk in on a whim that easily.

81:

Thread necromancy, just saw this on Ars Technica about the official Formula 1 e-sports racing game.

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2017/11/formula-1-esports-now-more-exciting-than-the-real-thing-and-thats-a-problem/

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