Videogames can offer a wide range of experiences but undoubtedly one of the most popular goals is realism and immersion. Regardless of the reasons, many players will seek out for the most convincing games out there, with higher visual fidelity and smooth controls that soon feel like a natural extension of their own body. Naturally, the market responds with games of increasingly higher visual fidelity and anything else they think will make their experience more believable.
Until now the obstacles were easy to identify and surpass; Graphics needed to improve. As years went by we witnessed games going from chunky pixels to photorealistic renderings. Audio never got as much attention but it also improved. But now the industry seems a little lost, since graphics have reached a plateau of some kind. We see improvements every year but they are not nearly as noticeable as it once was. Case in point, I didn't have to replace my GPU in quite a while to be able to play newer games.
Then Virtual Reality enters the picture. While things are still settling it's not easy to define what it actually offers, but it seems to come down to two things: a binocular panoramic display, the goggles that makes you see things as if you were inside the game seeing with both eyes and all the depth perception goodness that comes with. And motion controls for your hands and head. This is great for videogames in general! More control options means more ways to interact with machine to explore. And it's certainly being seen as the new venue to continue expanding on immersion and realism. However, I don't think motion controls will translate to more immersion as people expect it to.
Let's forget about the goggles for a moment and focus on the relation between body movement and immersion. My theory, and this comes from anecdotal evidence and basic guess work, is that the least amount of movement leads to a more immersive experience. If all I'm doing while playing a game is moving my eyes and my fingers, it doesn't take long for me to forget the outside of my screen exists. If I have to look at the keyboard to, say, pick a weapon by pressing the number 6, that takes me out a little bit. If my controller starts vibrating I am suddenly reminded of my own body's state (sitting on a couch holding a controller instead of running in the desert firing a rifle).
I seem to be suggesting immersion will continue to decrease with movement, but we can indeed extrapolate to a scenario where your body movements will be perfectly translated to the game, and the game's world will interact with your body convincingly. You see a rock in-game, you move your real body in its direction using your own legs and touch it with your own hands. That scenario surely has to be very convincing but technology is not there yet. However what this all suggests is that the immersion curve has a big valley in the middle. For lack of a better word I'll just refer to this as emersion valley. Which makes me regret the direction of this plot! immerge goes up and emergence goes down? Madness. Not to mention these words sound exactly the same in english.
Point A would be a regular PC game with mouse and keyboard. The very bottom of the curve has to be a wii party game where you waive your arms around in the middle of the living room
Much like what the uncanny valley represents to CGI, I think this emersion valley is going to be a real problem for VR, because without the sense of each iteration bringing an improvement there is very little incentive to take these gradual steps.
For the record, I think the left extreme is much harder to achieve than the right extreme, despite looking closer. The left extreme would be a matrix dystopia.
I'm painting a very pessimistic future for VR but that's because I neglected the goggles so far. That's unarguably the most important aspect, the most talked about, the aspect that companies are investing more to make it better. And the best part? it's just a larger screen enabling depth perception strapped to your face! For those seeking more immersion, players and developers, just forget the motion controllers and focus on the goggles. VR goggles came to stay, as long as they don't become forever associated with motion controllers, like a good actor that can't find work because everyone sees him as that one character he played 10 years ago.