Face off: Could Windows HoloLens change how we game?

Microsoft HoloLens Family Room RGB

face off

Chris Thursten just wants to keep spending money until he turns into Iron Man. Is that too much to ask?

Samuel Roberts is a Luddite, aside from his two powerful PCs, smartphone, tablet, widescreen TV, and every possession in his flat worth more than £40.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Samuel and Chris argue over whether or not Microsoft's augmented reality system will be a practical gaming device.

Chris Thursten: YES. You can augment my reality any day of the week.

Samuel Roberts: NO. Has Microsoft seen how much space I have in my flat? Holodeck? Holodreck, more like.

Chris: In January, Microsoft waited until the very end of the most boring presentation I've ever sat through to announce that it had only gone and invented that thing from Iron Man where Robert Downey Jr. waves at a table and then he's Iron Man, or something. (It's been a long time since I watched Iron Man.) The point is, Microsoft has figured out something profound about augmented-reality goggles, something that Google clearly missed—that reality goggles are fundamentally dorky. You're never going to wear them while you eat your dinner in a restaurant or sup a cold beer in your local chain pub. What you will do—what you should do—is use them to surround yourself with nerdy holograms at all times.

I'm going to posit some scenarios that demonstrate why I think HoloLens will succeed as a gaming peripheral. One: spectating a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match by projecting Dust 2 into your living room. Two: solving a puzzle in The Elder Scrolls by manipulating a holographic dragon's... whatever. Three: sitting on your couch watching Adventure Time with a hologram of Varric from Dragon Age.

Samuel: And will I wear this over or under my Oculus VR headset, Chris? The future of sitting at my desk appears to have me wearing a dorky headset of some kind, and given that I couldn't get on board with Microsoft's last attempt at shaking up basic interactivity with Kinect, I don't see why we should be more excited about this. I appreciate the attempt to revolutionise forms of interactivity in fancy sci-fi ways, but have Microsoft's developers taken into account how little space I actually have in my living room? I can barely fit all my Lego in there, let alone anything else.

Where am I going to get the space to build 3D models by waving my arms around? I'll either have someone's eye out, or (more likely, because I live alone) punch out a light fitting. HoloStudio demonstrated the potential applications of holograms, but you're putting your fantasies of wearing a Geordi La Forge-style headpiece before common sense, man.

Chris: That's the point, Sam—you don't need space for HoloLens. The Kinect's big weakness was that it was designed soley for people who occupied the football-pitch-sized living rooms of the boundless Pacific Northwest; it was a product solely for happy lifestyle-photography people who live to dance in front of the television. HoloLens isn't like that. HoloLens can turn even the blandest cupboard into the surface of an alien world, or take whatever scant desk space isn't occupied by pizza boxes and fill it with any piece of Lego you could imagine. It's for us, Sam. And, if that trailer is anything to go by, it's also for very attractive people who work in artisanal motorbike-design studios in the boundless Pacific Northwest. It caters for both parties, I guess. We can share.

All this, too, without the Rift's sticky solipsism. With HoloLens, I don't worry that I'll become lost in some ultrareal virtual simulation to the exclusion of my wasting physical form. I worry instead that I will become so used to the companionship of holo-Varric that I will refuse to take the googles off, and, wearing them in the shower, electrocute myself and die. It will be worth it.

Samuel: I don't know, Chris. In that HoloStudio demo, the person doing it needed to hold their arm out about a metre, and be able to rotate in at least a 90-degree space. Do you know how expensive it is to obtain that much real estate in Bath? My PC is half a metre from the end of my bed, and my laptop is on a dinner table that is so wedged into my one room that it acts as a fire hazard. These days, everyone in a major city lives in a box, and I think to get a pleasurable holographic experience—and I don't mean anything sexy, just being able to use the interface without having it right up against my eyeballs—it'll still be a challenge of practicality. Also, holo-Varric won't want to spend time with you, Chris. He's a moral sort of dwarf and when he founds out the sort of shit you get up to in your spare time, he'll march out of your room and hang out with someone else. Tom Senior, maybe. It won't be me, though, because I won't be wearing a HoloLens. It won't fit over my giant 1990s Ray Ban sunglasses or, indeed, my large head.

Chris: Holo-Varric can't 'march out of my room,' Sam, because, unlike some people I might mention, he's a friend who exists because I let him. And because Microsoft for some reason let me do that.

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