When I first played the Xbox 360, I was in awe. I had never seen anything quite like it before. To my twelve-year-old eyes, the graphics were gorgeous. The menus were immaculate. The games were revolutionary. For the first time, I could play with my friends any time I wanted. In a word, it was perfect. But that perfection came with one big question: how is gaming going to get better from here?
But as the years pressed on, my expectations continued to be surpassed. The graphics became more lifelike. The worlds were more immersive. At its current state, gaming still seems like it has no room for improvement. While watching my roommate play “NBA 2K15,” I often forget that I’m not watching a live basketball game.
I am positive, even more than when I was 12, that video game graphics have reached their peak. The fact that people can be fooled into thinking they’re watching a live sports broadcast is a testament to just how far gaming has come. In the past two years, I came to terms with the fact that graphics may never get better than they are now.
However, I found my assumptions challenged again earlier this year, when I heard about the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. It wasn’t just changing video game graphics; it was completely revolutionizing the way we experience them. I felt the same way about the Rift as I did about the Xbox 360: It was going to change everything.
My excitement came to a head when, earlier this year, I got the chance to try the Oculus Rift for myself. Once I got past the initial amazement of wearing the future on my face, I started up the demo and braced myself for the answer to the question that had been plaguing me for six years.
To say that it was exhilarating would be an egregious understatement. The objects speeding above my head felt real. The steep drops filled me with genuine terror, and the sound coming from my thick, ear-encompassing headphones only added to the illusion. It was everything I dreamed it would be and then some.
I walked away from it angry, disenchanted, and confused.
In the final part of the demo, I found myself watching a movie in a simulated living room setting. A narrator excitedly explained that within the next few years, more and more people will begin watching their movies in these simulated living rooms.
It was in that moment that I realized how completely alone I was. Memories of my childhood living room came rushing back to me: laughing with my older brothers as we played Goldeneye together and the neighborhood kids flocking to my TV to challenge my reign as Mario Kart King.
These experiences were the answer I had been looking for all along. I don’t love video games for their immersion or their fancy graphics. I love video games because they are something I can enjoy doing with others. When you actively block out your surroundings, you lose sight of gaming’s true merits.
I don’t know where the future of gaming lies, but some part of me honestly hopes that it isn’t with virtual reality. As we enter into the era of 4K resolutions and 60 FPS standards, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of why we want to play games in the first place. And at the end of the day, the number of players trumps the number of pixels every time.