There appears to be some contention around whether or not Alyx - protagonist in the recently-announced VR game Half-Life: Alyx - should have arms to accompany her hands. The internet loves to disagree about literally everything, so this shouldn't be that surprising. But when you take a step back, it's quite funny to observe the kinds of matters we gamers debate over these days, considering this issue wasn't even conceptualise-able until relatively recently.
The first official trailer for Half-Life: Alyx dropped last week, and besides the fact that everything looked so damn cool, one particular thought came to mind for a lot of fans: what's with the floating hands, Valve?
Christopher Livingston from PCGamer voiced this exact thought, saying that disembodied hands simply aren't good enough, especially considering Valve is the studio in question:
Valve has been developing Half-Life: Alyx for four years and it produces its own VR hardware. If anyone can crack the elbow code, shouldn't it be Valve? If Half-Life: Alyx is going to be a next level VR game, that level should include an entirely realised body.
Other VR games such as Lone Echo and L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files have managed to fill the arm voids. So, Livingston argues, there's no excuse for why Alyx with its superior technological backing and the legendary Valve bringing it all to life shouldn't be able to as well. Having to contend with a pair of disembodied hands groping around an otherwise hyperrealistic environment is immersion-breaking, and looks a bit ridiculous.
Perhaps this is somewhat true - I certainly am guilty of feeling that twinge of disappointment upon seeing Alyx's lack-of-arms. However, on the other (disembodied) hand, the alternative does come with a far greater risk of un-immersion. Virtual reality arms - VArms, if you will - are notoriously difficult to create without them being more distracting than the floating hand option.
As Livingston's colleague pointed out (sorry about the puns), VR technology is still in its infancy. We simply aren't at that stage yet where exact body mapping can be transferred to a VR experience in a seamlessly realistic way:
VR still requires plenty of willful suspension of disbelief. Bad arms looking stupid and bad don't make it easy.
Video game journalist Geoff Keighley also weighed in, saying:
As someone who has played through the game, I assure you this is a bad take. https://t.co/0BhunWtrX0— Geoff Keighley (@geoffkeighley) November 23, 2019
VR gaming is gaining more traction than ever before and things are certainly headed in an exciting direction. Sure, future generations will almost certainly look back on where we are now and think that our floaty VR hands are hilarious and simply adorable. But for now we will just have to trust that Valve's decision was the better one, and see for ourselves in March 2020.