One of the early hurdles to widespread adoption of virtual reality has been a problem of perception. For many, their only experience with, or awareness of, VR has been through games, and the last thing most VC firms or major corporations want to invest in is a novelty—something fun but mostly impractical.
For those who follow VR more closely, however—and particularly the rise of Virtual Reality Training—the notion that VR is just another high tech game is quickly fading as results and peer-reviewed studies start to pour in which continue to validate the effectiveness of the technology as a learning tool.
With that said, we have something to confess: some of PIXO VR’s best and brightest hail from the world of — gasp! — AAA-video games. (We know, it’s shocking. But bear with us.)
Now, you might think we would try to hide or downplay that fact so as not to reinforce the “VR is a game” narrative, (in fact, our gaming pedigree was hinted at in this recent piece about us by influential VR industry blogger Alice Bonasio appearing in The Next Web), but the truth is, our success as a VR Training company is owed in no small measure to our roots, and those of our team, in entertainment and gaming.
And when you think about it, the connection makes a lot of sense.
After all, it’s hard to discount the importance—arguably the primacy—of video games to pop culture; they’ve become a bedrock feature of modern life, with some analyses suggesting they’ve outpaced sales of more traditional entertainment such as film and music.
As an illustration, data released a few years ago showed video games brought in $83.6 billion in global revenue, more than double the movie industry’s $36.4 billion. In 2017, gaming brought in $108.9 billion.
The practical effect of this phenomenon is that whole generations (including this author’s) have grown up in a world saturated by video games. Those games, of course, continue to improve in visual fidelity and sophistication, enabling Average Joes and Janes the world over to hone their virtualized skills as athletes, warriors, hunters—learners and absorbers of all manner of digital content.
Perhaps you see what we’re getting at.
Put simply, many who are now entering their productive years in the labor market were raised on video games. They’ve been immersed in gaming culture, literally reshaping their brains in the process, and it’s become an important tool for learning new things.
Ben Mazza knows that because that’s the world he and several other PIXO VR graphic artists, engineers, and designers had a hand in creating. He says he and other “reformed video game developers”, as he calls his colleagues, leverage their experience in AAA-games to inform their Virtual Reality Training experiences.
“In effect, many of us spent our early careers in training—but it was training people how to be better martial artists, soldiers, athletes, and superheroes”, says Mazza, who now serves as PIXO VR’s Head of Product Development.
Mazza says there are critical aspects of training that video games have long provided and which he and his team now consciously build into PIXO VR’s experiences, including the ability to both learn lessons and then apply those lessons to specific scenarios in order to solve problems.
“It’s the difference between storytelling and what’s been called storyliving”, Mazza says. “In VR, we can demonstrate cause-and-effect far better than can be done with a book, classroom lecture, or traditional computer-based training. We’re not ‘talking at’ trainees with them passively listening, they’re engaged. They’re present in the experience and the choices they make will affect their outcomes.”
If that’s how young people are learning, he asks, doesn’t it make sense to teach them marketable workplace skills the same way?
Mazza’s not the only one who sees the value in exploiting lessons learned from gaming to more serious training pursuits. PIXO VR’s Technical Director, Todd Kuehnl, has also worked extensively in AAA-games and says they can get a bad rap.
“Some think kids are just wasting time on games, and sure, some do. But you can’t say they’re not learning. You may not like what they’re learning, or think they should be learning something else, but they’re definitely learning”, Kuehnl says. “Once you figure out what it is about the experience that keeps them coming back again and again, what motivates them to get better, you can teach them anything. They’ll absorb it better than they would in a three-ring binder or on a desktop .”
Between them, Mazza and Kuehnl boast an impressive gaming lineage, with both spending time designing and innovating with industry leaders such as EA Games, (Madden NFL series, FIFA series, NHL series, Command & Conquer series), THQ, (Destroy All Humans!, Red Faction), Zynga, (FarmVille, Words With Friends 2), Midway Games, (Galaga, Mortal Kombat series, NFL Blitz), and Take-Two Interactive (Rockstar, Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, NBA series, Civilization, etc.)
They say that while they’re proud of their time in gaming, they recognize that the application for AAA-game-style graphics and engaging narratives goes well beyond entertainment, and in the form of advanced Virtual Reality Training, can help numerous industries dealing with a serious skilled labor shortage.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re still gamers,” Mazza says, adding, “I guess you could just say we’re using our powers for good now. Everybody wants to make the world better. We think you make it better by making it smarter.”