In class I was struck by a particularly bold comment, that when young children now reach video game playing age, there may be no such thing as a keyboard. Now this comment caused much of the class to react in shock and a little disgust. And my initial reaction was pretty much the same. How am I going to play Heroes of the Storm or Planetside 2 without my precious Rosewill Apollo RK-9100xBRE (gaming keyboard)? However, as I thought deeper about the implications of this comment, I began to realize all of the exciting possibilities it held.
What I am most interested in is virtual reality. After I read the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline I was hooked. If you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize that my display name was inspired by one of the characters. What exists in the book seems the child of Sci-fi and fantasy: The Oasis. The Oasis is a virtual world that can be accessed through a set of goggles and a body suit. The goggles display a three dimensional image of a real world. An omnidirectional treadmill allows the wearer to walk in any direction to move his or her character. The body suit allows the wearer to move his avatar as naturally as his own body as well as to feel touch from various objects and other avatars. This sounds like a science fiction dream, but it may be closer to reality than you think.
After reading the book, I became fully invested in finding out all there was to know about virtual reality. The two biggest developers I found were Sony, with the Morpheus, and Oculus with the Rift. I focused more intensely on the Oculus Rift as I had access to one.
First I wanted to know how it worked. The Rift is a head mounted display (HMD) with two lenses inside. Now if the lenses projected the same image, you would only see two dimensional images. To make the view 3D, the lenses needed to operate like human eyes. Cover one eye and look straight ahead. Now without moving your gaze, uncover your eye and cover the other one. See how you see a slightly different area with each eye? That is what allows things to be viewed as 3D. The Rift uses this concept and each lens projects a slightly different view to create the 3D effect.
The first model of the Rift (DK1) only tracked your head movement side to side. This meant that you could turn your head to each side and all the way behind you and the view would move just the same. The second model (DK2) included depth tracking. A small camera on a tripod in front of you tracks when you lean closer and farther from objects and moves the display just the same.
Now that I have laid out the basics of how the Rift works I want to move to how this connects to the comment made about the disappearance of the keyboard.
In order for the keyboard as a tool for gaming to disappear, it needs to be replaced. This, though it sounds upsetting, is actually quite exciting. A lot of games use the keyboard to move characters around. In Planetside 2, for example, the keyboard is used to move and shoot. However, how would you do this with no keyboard? An omnidirectional treadmill and a handheld, gun shaped controller. Believe it or not, these things are in development.
The disappearance of the keyboard will not lead to a less fun gaming experience. Instead, it will be a step towards full immersion. Imagine that instead of pressing “W” to run forward, you actually ran while 3D images of tanks and soldiers were projected right in front of your eyes. Instead of using your mouse to aim and the spacebar to shoot, you looked at your target and pulling the trigger on a realistic feeling gun. Instead of watching a replay of your characters death, you felt vibrations on your chest from your full body suit (also in development).
The disappearance of the keyboard doesn’t mean the disappearance of the haptic. Though, in a sense, you’d be doing less touching and the game would be doing more. The full body suits would touch your skin every time your character would be hit. Rather than your hands touching a keyboard your feet would be hitting the treadmill, propelling your character forward.
I think we need to take a second look at the initial reaction on the disappearance of the keyboard and look further to a future where one can be fulling immersed in gameplay, without the use of a keyboard.