Virtual reality is coming. There are a number of excellent looking devices and while they are expensive now the price will come down just like every other consumer device. But they will become truly important when people begin to understand that they are far more than just a way to play games or watch TV.
To me the way to understand this is to think about what it is called. The reason it's called virtual reality and not surround gaming or something else is because at it's best it mimics reality. And while many of us play and enjoy games in reality that isn't all we do and it certainly isn't all we want to do.
For most of us work takes up a large amount of our time and while it hasn't been discussed yet virtual reality has an important place in business. First, the telecommuting has been growing in popularity over the last decade and with virtual reality it's going to become even easier for people to work at home because you could easily create a virtual office and have most of the advantages of an office without the costs.
For me that isn't really what excites me. As someone who spends a lot of time at a computer I like the idea of a virtual office space because it gives me a lot of options. As the quality of the screens improves I could work at a virtual screen while sitting on a virtual beach or being almost anywhere. Or I could have four different virtual monitors so I don't have to change tabs when doing research. And that's just be beginning.
But beyond work there are so many things. The most obvious to me is travel. In the next couple of years I imagine that something similar to Google Streetview will be made for virtual reality. You'll be able to explore the streets of almost any city in the world, explore museums and visit monuments. For someone who isn't wealthy enough to visit all the places he wants to go that is more interesting than playing a video game.
And in many places you'll be able to do more than just wander the streets. It places like New York, London that have been photographed a lot for quite a while you should be able to not only explore the cities but virtually time travel. This could of course be used in games but it doesn't need to be.
There are a thousand other ways to use virtual reality as well. Clearly since Facebook is involved there will be virtual chat rooms, but there is no reason they have to be as simple as that. Instead you'll have virtual movie theaters, concerts plays that you can visit with friends or explore real life places together. You could even sit around a table and play board games.
Finally there is education. The simple imagination is to have a virtual classroom. You could have huge numbers of students sit in on a virtual lecture with experts on the subject. But that is barely the beginning. Imagine a history class where you could watch the moon lander or visit a virtual battle site. You could watch the last supper being painted or sit in on great moments in history. An entire class could be at the million man march and that same day visit the events that led up to it. You could see Shakespeare’s plays in the globe theater, have a virtual conversation with Socrates. The chances to learn are endless.
If gaming is what takes to get virtual reality the jump start it needs then I am all for it, and I'm looking forward to the games. But I'm far more excited about the hundreds of other ways that I haven't even thought of yet that I can do all the things I've wanted to do but couldn't and I certainly don't wan to be limited by them having to be games.