VR gaming refers to a modern generation of video games that use virtual reality (VR) technology to provide players with a fully interactive, first-person view of game action. VR gaming devices and accessories, such as VR headsets, sensor-equipped gloves, hand controllers, and more, enable participants to experience and influence the game world.
Virtual reality games can be played on standalone platforms, specialized game consoles, or advanced laptops and PCs capable of powering popular VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Lenovo Mirage Solo.
Virtual reality gaming includes subsets that use similar technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), in which virtual elements are inserted into the player's real-world environment as seen through a headset or camera. Lenovo Explorer is powered by Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality platform, which, while still primarily based on VR, adds new AR and MR experiences.
There are single-player virtual reality games as well as multi-player online virtual reality games. Some VR games (which, for this FAQ, include games focused on VR, AR, and MR) immerse players in physical combat, while others, such as auto racing and acrobatic flight, are less combative. Other VR games require players to solve puzzles, move items, or discover new locations, either alone or with others.
Virtual reality gaming laptops and VR-ready gaming towers are common platforms, but there are different types of virtual reality gaming depending on the type of computing system used:
PC and Laptop VR Games: Games played on high-end machines provide the most detailed virtual worlds and game options. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Lenovo Explorer, our own VR headset, were all common VR headsets for PCs and laptops in late 2018.
VR Games on Game Consoles: These games are identical to those played on PCs, but they are only compatible with some game consoles. The PlayStation VR headset/platform is an excellent example.
Smartphone VR Games: Smartphone manufacturers release their own VR headphones, controllers, and games for mobile VR gaming (VR, AR, and MR). The Gear VR is one such headset/platform.
There are also standalone VR products, such as the Mirage Solo, which offer less detailed but still enjoyable VR gaming.
The thrill of virtual reality gaming comes from the first-person perspective and the ability of each player to control the virtual world. Unlike traditional video games, where the player's character is seen from behind or slightly above, VR players frequently feel as if they are viewing the action from their character's eyes.
The specialized VR headsets or goggles that are part of virtually every VR gaming experience are largely responsible for this unique viewpoint and playability. A selection of add-on devices can be used to convert the player's real-life gestures into on-screen action for additional feedback and control.
VR Gaming Headsets & Goggles: The headset or goggles you wear on your head to immerse yourself in the game is the most critical VR gaming accessory. The market for headphones and goggles is rapidly growing. From high-end, motion-control VR headsets that capture and relay the entire head and eye movements to more basic VR goggles that simply show the virtual 3D game world, there's something for everyone.
Virtual Reality Game Controllers: A virtual reality game controller converts your physical movements into game results. Most VR games, like conventional video games, use a hand-based controller (joystick, gamepad, or even gloves) to aim, fire, and submit commands. A motion detector/controller is also used in more advanced VR games to detect and replicate real-life movements (walking, throwing, etc.) within the game.
VR Gaming Gloves: Sensor-equipped VR gaming gloves have enabled a new level of detail in today's most advanced virtual reality games.
In early 2016, the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift was announced, four years after its original crowdfunding campaign, distributed initially via the Oculus VR website and eventually making its way to retailers around the world.
Until now, using the Oculus Rift needed a powerful PC. The official website lists the minimum requirements for an Oculus Ready PC, with Dell, HP, Alienware, and Asus all providing VR-ready computers. Oculus VR has also released Rift PC packs, including the $2,050 Alienware pack.
Oculus is expanding its hardware lineup, and in December, the company will release the Oculus Touch controller, which will convert your hand movements into the virtual world.
The HTC Vive collaborates between HTC, a Taiwanese technology company, and Valve, a video game company. Valve recently added a dedicated VR category to its Steam digital games store, and HTC recently released its Viveport portal for non-gaming applications.
Though both the Vive and the Oculus Rift have several games and applications, the Vive is a direct competitor. It, like the Rift, needs a PC to run its software, and HTC keeps a list of Vive Ready computers on its website, which includes partners Alienware, HP, and MSI.
The Vive has several unique features, such as a front-facing camera that can carry the physical world into your virtual worlds in some games. Unlike the Rift, you also get two hand-worn gestural controllers in the pack, which helps justify the higher price.
A base station is included with the Vive that monitors your movements, allowing you to walk around within your virtual reality space under certain parameters. This means a longer setup phase – comparable to properly setting up a high-end home audio system rather than simply putting your stereo on a shelf – but as more apps and games use the option, it could become the Vive's killer feature.
Sony's PlayStation VR headset was discovered in October 2016 as a PlayStation 4 game console accessory. The headsets are compatible with both the PlayStation 4 and the latest PlayStation 4 Pro, but the pro can run VR games at higher screen resolutions and frame rates.
PlayStation VR supports the DualShock 4 controller, but you'll also need the $60 PlayStation Camera adapter.
Sony wants PlayStation VR to be more than a solo experience, so it includes a feature called VR Social Screen, which displays what you see in the headset on your TV screen, allowing friends to join in or watch.