Technology has come a long way since the days of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the video game console that first introduced a virtual reality experience to households in the mid-’90s. Users complained about Virtual Boy’s monochromatic graphics, a feeling of discomfort while playing, and the steep price. Games felt more two-dimensional than immersive, and the system’s sales badly flopped.
Two decades after Nintendo’s failure, virtual reality has suddenly got its groove back. In 2014, Facebook bought VR startup Oculus for $2 billion, and Google introduced its low-cost Cardboard VR platform. Other companies started to develop their own VR systems, and this year marks the first time that high-end headsets from HTC, Oculus, and Sony are available for purchase by the masses.
The release of VR video games, short films, and live experiences promises to revolutionize the entertainment industry — but whether the technology will live up to the hype remains to be seen. All the headlines touting virtual reality as the next big thing left me curious to learn more about the science: What kinds of tricks do VR developers use to try to fool the brain? What happens when they don’t work? And why do some people experience motion sickness when using VR?