It makes sense that people assume VR experiences — games, media, environments — will be first person. The Oculus Rift looks like goggles, it’s clearly designed to provide eyes an entry into digital space. This observation is true, but the logic chain leading to predetermine POV is broken because VR offers more than a simulation of the human experience. What VR allows for is presence and that can be more god-like than human. In fact, it should be on a lot of cases.
The third-person view is shockingly effective, if under-utilized, in virtual reality. If you’ve been following VR’s development, you’ll know that games like Edge of Nowhere and Lucky’s Tale have made waves by ditching the FPV. Lucky’s Tale, in particular, has a good shot of being the first third-person experience for many VR users by sheer dint of being bundled with pre-ordered Oculus Rifts.
Still, there are questions that remain unanswered about this gaming experience. How will cutscenes work? What will players see if they enter a hall of mirrors? Does this cease to be a truly 360-degree experience?
Early FPV Samsung Gear VR experiences don’t have so much a first-person view as a first-void view — look down in Jurassic World: Apatosaurus, and you don’t see feet. In the sense-tickling Smash Hit, you have no clues to what you are other than perpetually moving eyeballs that spit off ball-bearings. You do see an armored pilot body in EVE: Valkyrie, but that’s about it. (Can you see the tip of your nose? Unclear.) A developer for the space-fighting sim called third-person “not very comfortable in VR” in an EVE forum.)
Lucky’s Tale and Edge of Nowhere, however, invite comparisons to Super Mario 64 and Uncharted rather than Doom or Wolfenstein. In Lucky’s Tale, for instance, you can lean in to see the fox you control, or sit back to take in the whole level at a distance — it’s VR in god mode. There are plenty of other applications, too, particularly more Sims or toy-like games, hinted at via Minecraft demos of Microsoft’s Hololens.
Is one view inherently superior for VR? It depends, frankly, on what you’re trying to achieve. A small study of 40 Skyrim players, performed by the University of York computer scientists and published in 2015, found that a first person view increased feelings of immersion, though there was a significant cohort who preferred the third-person view.
First person is, as the EVE developer notes, a likely a much more natural view for VR space simulators — but it’s encouraging to see that, right off the bat, virtual reality software isn’t afraid to experiment.