Bogost’s section on texture in How To Do Things With Videogames talks about how important it is for video games to simulate tangibility and texture in order to increase the feeling of immersion and connection to the video game world. He specifically cites the example of Rez, a game released for the Dreamcast and PS2 in 2002. The shooting game, which relies on musical sound effects instead of the normal sound effects associated with other games in the genre, attempts to make the player experience a concept called “synesthesia”, defined as “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” In addition to the extreme audio feedback, the game had an optional “Trance Vibrator” peripheral which allowed for touch feedback beyond what was just available in the controller’s rumble motors (the game’s creator insists it wasn’t made for any specific purpose but honestly what does he expect).
With the advent of virtual reality looming on the horizon with products like the Oculus Rift and newly announced Playstation Morpheus, the emphasis of textures in video games is going to only be more important as time goes on. As the sense of virtual reality can be easily broken due to any one thing not seeming real, the game creators have to strive for full sensory interaction. Rez had it easy because the game’s style was so far removed from reality that there was no true sense of reality that the game had to strive for – it simply connected the player with the music. As full immersion becomes more necessary, the player’s sense of touch will have to be more utilized.
Right now the Oculus Rift still relies on either a mouse/keyboard or gamepad input in some manner. This is obviously not ideal. So, the next step after companies master the audio/visual aspect of virtual reality (which is not too far off), they need to tackle the issue of touch. Some companies are already exploring this space. For instance, Sony has patented a controller which can quickly heat up or cool down to simulate temperature. The Razer Hydra is a device meant to simulate two hands in 3D space, but is not ideal due to its small range and unreliability. There are even devices like the Virtuix Omni that combine a harness around your waist with a slippery surface under your feet to simulate the feeling of walking, something that VR is nowhere near being able to simulate right now. These devices, though, are either non existent or clunky and unruly. As texture is going to be the most important aspect of virtual reality when it finally reaches mainstream penetration, more priority has to be places on being able to simulate touch as well as these devices are simulating audio and video.