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In Defence of Tethered VR

The advantages of wireless virtual reality (VR) devices seem to be blindingly obvious. Freedom from cables, from tripping over or getting tangled, as well as the (hopefully) easier set-up process when no wires are involved. No one seems to have considered that there may, in fact, be some advantages to those reviled cables.

First, some background, I have an odd condition called Dyscalculia. Often thought of as the numerical equivalent to Dyslexia, this means I have some issues involving numbers and the manipulation thereof. It also causes some more obscure symptoms, such as a baffling inability to read analogue clocks, and issues involving spacial awareness and spacial reasoning, meaning I have issues creating ‘mental maps’. How this manifests is that I have a terrible sense of direction, which is not a problem in 2D or linear videogames, where the goal is obvious, but becomes more of an issue in open world or role-playing game (RPG) titles. People who watch me play, for example, Assassin’s Creed are driven crazy by how often I switch to the map screen to check my direction and route, even though I am scrupulous in my use of objective markers.

As you can imagine then, when I am engaged in a 3D open-world title in virtual reality (VR), a whole new dimension (literally) of problems crop up. It is absurdly easy for me to get turned around and find myself wandering in circles. Particularly since many VR titles are reluctant to include features such as mini-maps to avoid breaking immersion, which is fair. This is where the wire to my VR headset actually comes in useful.

The set-up for my VR kit involves the wire from my PlayStation VR snaking down my left-hand-side. This is where it is when I am facing forwards, towards the TV. So, if I am heading towards an objective in the VR world and when I set out my cable is on my left-hand side, all I need to do is make sure it stays on my left-hand side as I travel, using it as a re-orientation guide whenever I have to wander off the path to shoot or stab some monsters. This method also means I can check I haven’t wiggled out of the tracking range of the PlayStation Camera – all too easy to do when wandering around the world of, say, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, or gunning down demons in DOOM VFR.

DOOM VFR screenshot

In addition, the layout of the room I use VR in means that the cables pull me up short before I can smack into the window, or trip over the dining table. Some people find this annoying, but its actually prevented me from having a serious mischief on more than one occasion. Though it is vital to keep your play area clear, when immersed in VR it is not always possible to know where the play area ends. In light of the recent tragic death of a VR user in Russia, the safety aspect is one that can’t be overlooked. Perhaps VR hardware manufacturers should consider variable cable lengths to suit various room sizes. Or, more likely, uses should make use of zip ties and elastic bands to achieve the same effect.

Wireless VR is very likely to be a great thing for the industry as a whole, but for those of us with spacial awareness issues, it is also likely to mean much more aimless wondering around in circles in richly detailed VR environments that lack maps, and probably quite a few more bumps and bruises or – Heaven forbid – worse.