This time, VR really will change everything

It's not just gaming: Marc McLaren explains how Oculus Rift, Sony Morpheus and Samsung's Gear VR will change communication, films, music and more…

In 1983, at the age of eight, I fell in love with virtual reality.

That was the year I saw Tron – my first cinema experience and also my introduction to VR. It was also the year I got a Tomytronic 3D for my birthday; not real virtual reality, of course but as near as made no difference then. 

I was smitten. That I could be taken from the drab grey world of 1980s Coventry and plunged into a futuristic landscape of light cycles and space battles was exhilarating. By the time I was 20, I imagined, I’d be living my whole life like this. 

Well 20 came and went and 30 too, but VR remained a virtual unreality compared with the fully realised pleasures of games consoles and girls, music and the internet.

It never entirely disappeared from my field of view, with films such as Strange Days and Existenz and books such as Snow Crash and Neuromancer all promising a VR-led future but it had now become just that: a promise rather than a reality.

Finally, though, that’s about to change.

Earlier this month, Samsung announced the GEAR VR device that works with the Galaxy Note 4sometime around the end of 2014, the Oculus Rift VR headset will be released; Sony’s Project Morpheus PlayStation accessory is expected in 2015; Microsoft is rumoured to be planning something; startups such as Fove are bringing their own models to market. 

In short, after 30 years of not very much happening to virtual reality, the world’s about to go VR crazy. And the really good news is that this time it’s about more than just gaming.

Space flights, rugby and ice wallsYeah, we know – you wouldn’t guess that from the names above: Oculus was developed as a gaming device with John Carmack of Doom/iD Software heavily involved in its invention and Project Morpheus is clearly PlayStation-centric. If Microsoft does make one, it’s certain to be Xbox-friendly.

But just because a device can play games that doesn’t mean it’s all it can do. Just take Oculus, which is already racking up non-gaming applications. We’ve seen the University of Surrey use it for a virtual space flight, O2 plunge you into an England rugby union training session and HBO let you experience what it would be like to ascend the 700ft ice wall in Game Of Thrones.

And that really is just the start. Once it takes off, we’d expect it to be used for educational purposes in schools and museums, for information in galleries and shopping centres, for training everyone from doctors to mechanics, for entertainment in virtual concerts and sporting contests.