VR vs. AR: A Brief Overview

Updated on March 23, 2017

My Quote of the Day

One day when I happened to be watching Transformers: Age of Extinction, something that was said in the film got me thinking:

“...Because if we don’t do it, someone else will. Because you cannot stop technology!”

- Joshua Joyce, Transformers: Age of Extinction

This is the guy who coined the phrase in from the movie, and he really got me thinking...
This is the guy who coined the phrase in from the movie, and he really got me thinking... | Source

It’s a statement that rings with a lot of truth doesn't it? This little line from the movie really epitomizes (at least in my opinion,) the technological industry in today’s world. The advance of technology is mind-blowing and it’s only made more so by the sheer pace at which these advances happen. There’s news of the latest innovations pretty much every day if you look in the right places. I think it’s fair to say that us gamers only appreciate the advances that allow us to play incredibly detailed, incredibly life-like, and complex games on machines that were only fantasies up until a half century ago.

The most recent and influential advances in the gaming world in the past year, have been the unveiling of both the AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) platforms; both of which have garnered incredible responses in their own right. Now, I get a lot of people who ask me what the difference is between the two. Which one is better? Well, I’m writing this piece in order to explain what each one is, the ups and downs of each, and ultimately, which one (if that is the case) is better.

Experience driving without leaving  home in Driveclub VR
Experience driving without leaving home in Driveclub VR | Source

What is VR and AR?

So, let’s start with Virtual Reality. It was the dream of many companies and many had tried and failed from the early 1990s to successfully develop it. (For example, remember the Nintendo Virtual Boy?) Virtual Reality is the creation of a virtual world, usually by way of a headset, which is designed to immerse the player in a world where you can’t tell what is fake or real. You can interact with pretty much anything in the virtual world. Naturally, the main breakthrough on the gaming market has been the Playstation VR, which stole a lot of the spotlight last year and sold over 50,000 units in its first week when released in October 2016.

What about its AR cousin? Augmented Reality seems a little more Sci-Fi-based, as it blends both virtual and real world aspects. This is done by having developers create programs which blend virtual content within the real world to allow the user to interact with the content. The biggest gaming aspect of this technology came in the form of a well-known game called Pokémon Go, which, since the game's release in July 2016, has accrued over 100 million downloads alone from the Google Play Store.

Capture Pokemon in real life scenarios with the AR tech in Pokemon Go, photo courtesy of IGN
Capture Pokemon in real life scenarios with the AR tech in Pokemon Go, photo courtesy of IGN | Source

So, which one is better? Well, each version has its own ups and downs.

VR's main upside in terms of a gaming perspective is the immersive nature of the technology. Who wouldn’t want to feel like the hero saving the day or be the person who is fighting off the zombie apocalypse? Because of VR we can now put ourselves in the middle of the action and experience and feel everything as if it’s really happening. People who play VR can relate to each other and relay their own experiences within the virtual world, which helps form friendships either in person or online and it enhances the social aspect of gaming.

However, the major downside of VR is that people can become addicted to being in a virtual reality world, as it gives them a chance to be something they’re not, which can lead to people becoming reclusive and shirking any real-life responsibility. So, moderation would be the key for this technology, but whose to say what’s enough for one person when the experience is entirely subjective? Naturally, people can experience motion sickness, due to the nature of the tech and people may also become severely scared by some the games while playing in VR. For example, would you want to come across an insanely huge spider in a game if you have arachnophobia?

AR’s main upside is because the nature of the games are location-based, you have to be an active participant in order to play the game. This requires you to be outside in order to make any progress with the games. This makes the games incredibly social. I remember when Pokémon Go was released, I started speaking to people I would never speak to under normal circumstances. Event meet-ups were created because of this game and based on that fact, one can't really say that gamers aren’t social creatures!

However, there are some major flaws with AR games, like the fact that they consume battery life at a rather alarming rate due to continuously using location and GPS sensors, but this can be rectified by buying battery packs at relatively low costs. Additionally, advances in phones mean the batteries inside them are also becoming better and longer-lasting, so there are ways around that problem. Secondly, these games require constant data usage, which can cost a lot of money if you aren’t paying attention, but there are steps being taken to reduce the amount of data used during gameplay.

Which one do you prefer??

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Now it’s time for my verdict and I believe that it ultimately depends on what kind of gamer you are. I personally have experienced both VR and AR and I wouldn’t want to just pick one over the other because I love the fact that they are different and do different things. I enjoy the experiences of both. The VR experience is a lot more immersive and you feel like you're actually in the game itself and the experiences you feel are very real, whereas AR is a lot more social and exercise-based, but the experience is just as real, because it's happening in real time. VR seems to have a bigger future because of the sheer amount of investment being put into it, but that doesn’t mean that AR isn’t a viable gaming option. Most of the AR games are relatively inexpensive or even free. And there will eventually be hardware available for these games to enhance their real world game play experience.

So there you have it. This is my two cents on the subject. What do you think about all of this? Do you have a preference?


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