Hype is a dangerous fire to stoke, I’m aware. Fan the flames too much and everyone ends up burnt. Just ask the engineers of the Virtual Boy. Just ask Hello Games. But there is a bright side to the unfair No Man’s Sky backlash, at least: with this many people having got quite this upset, I don’t think anyone can pretend the yearning to find something new in games is still fringe. Sure, that’s a poor salve for spacefarers who didn’t love No Man’s Sky (tsk tsk – Ed), but it’s fantastic news for PS VR.
Before you reach for your pitchforks, I’m not going to get preachy about violence. I don’t want to live in a world where the worst I can do to virtual monsters is give them a ruddy good tickling either. But PS VR is exciting to me precisely because the tech’s limitations have nudged developers out of their comfort zones. Popular run-and-gun FPSes? They’re likely be one-way tickets to motion sickness, which means something disruptive and awesome for VR games: there are no safe bets.
Developers can’t just fall back on tried and tested genres. And that fact doesn’t just open the door to the kind of creative uncertainty that rarely flies with publisher execs these days – it kicks it clean off its hinges. VR is going to do what no new box with slightly better silicon in it ever could: it’s going to revive the quirky, creative mid-tier of videogaming. Get hype... oh, wait. Better not.
Since we’re being sober, I expect that will mean more than a few turkeys lurking among the early tech demos. But aren’t a couple of flubs worth it in exchange for the potential for someone to hit upon a radically different form of play? Perhaps it’ll be inhabiting a self-dunking robot basketball in RIGS, or soaring as a bird in Eagle Flight. Maybe it’ll be commanding a starship, or rock climbing. Personally, I’m most excited about the potential for social games. Playing Werewolves Within might be something I associate with being a student in a packed lounge, rather than packed into VR goggles, but it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to imagine a version of ace PC make-like-an-AI thriller Spy Party, where you have to really act like an NPC to avoid taking a sniper’s bullet.
And yet VR’s deviant spirit is under threat. I’m not talking about the efforts being made to cram familiar forms of game into a headset – DOOM VR’s (just PC for now) mix of static emplacement shooting chained by teleportation-like super dashes is not inherently evil. No, I’m talking about perception. Even now, various commenters are dismissing the launch lineup and looking for the game that will ‘bring VR into the mainstream’, on the unspoken assumption that one magic title will be more like something we already know. I’d argue that would be an error – who wants to pay for all that hardware just to play the kind of game we’re already familiar with?
It’s the kind of viewpoint being touted by those who forget Wii Sports was a killer app for what is still one of the best-selling consoles of all time. And it’s the kind of thinking that’s oblivious as to why there is outcry over No Man’s Sky. (Hint: it’s not just because there’s not enough blasting aliens in their tentacled faces.) There’s a place for traditional styles of gaming in VR, but let’s not forget that PS VR was once Project Morpheus, named for the god of dreams. If we want a big-budget refuge for gaming’s creative dreamers, then please let it be here.
This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.