The Tokyo Game Show (TGS) is all about the latest in gaming. And in “gaming” we mean the whole spectrum of games ranging from the simple button-mashing mobile games to the sensory-overloading, full-body virtual roller coaster. In fact, it is in VR that numerous applications have popped up – pushing the boundaries of what VR can do.
Two such applications that – even without much hoopla – piqued our interest are the “VR Classroom” and “Happy Baby Happy Family”.
What’s intriguing about these two applications is the way it proposes to replace the learning that we humans can only absorb through actual social interaction. The VR Classroom is in fact, set-up just like any other classroom complete with seatmates, a blackboard and even a human teacher. But when the lesson is about to start, the teacher instructs the students to wear their individual VR glasses and get the lessons through their headgear. The subject that can be learned can be tailor-fit to the student. And with a VR teacher, it would mean that the lessons taught are identical from one class to the next. The classroom set-up is, I surmise, just a promotional tool to show people that VR can be the teacher of the future. Quite possibly, with a VR headset, one can just plug in and learn the lessons at their own pace and convenience. There are still limitations on VR classroom such as the interaction between students. How about group work and the student-teacher dynamic? The exchange of ideas when face to face with others should be the next step, but right now, this VR classroom looks like something of a solution for a shortage of teachers.
The other application, Real Baby Real Family is, you guessed it, simulates what it’s like having a family, specifically a baby. Before one actually starts becoming a virtual mom or dad, the would-be-virtual-parent is asked for photos. The application then combines both the parents’ faces and baby-fies it – giving the virtual baby a face only its virtual parents could love. With the headset on, the parent now sees the baby on a crib or lying down on a bed. The simulation begins when the baby is crying and the parent has to pick up the baby properly and rock the baby back to sleep. Some instructions are given to pat the baby on the bum or to sway the baby from left to right. It is, by far one of the head-scratching applications of VR I have seen. Yet, if you take the Japanese culture and their troubling demographics, one can understand why this app was even made. The Real Baby Real Family app is a creative way to test the waters of having a family. Rocking a baby back to sleep is, of course, just a fraction of the experience of being a first-time parent, but if this app can shine a positive light unto what having a baby is like, then it’s a step in the right direction for the Japanese. Still, for yours truly, even if there’s no manual for being a parent, figuring out how you can make your baby sleep is one of the greatest joys a parent should experience.
From the outside looking in, the aforementioned apps seem to be too farfetched to be even considered by ordinary folk. Then again, we’re not the target market here. The Japanese can gamify anything and everything as shown in TGS. And there lies the virtual rub. VR is being developed as an efficient and safe way to learn delicate subject matter all the while saving the learner time and embarrassment. But, that’s the thing. There’s a social benefit and cost to learning and failing with others. I just hope VR, even with a more immersive future ahead, will not be able to replace genuine social learning.