N Touch
Sunday 18 August 2019
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Enter the virtual world

When Pokemon Go launched in the summer of 2016, the whole world was ready to catch em’ all. Because what could be more fun than finding an elusive Pikachu or Bulbasaur in your living room through the magic of augmented reality (AR)? Millions of people downloaded the app in its first months just for the thrill of being able to enter the world of Pokemon via their mobile devices and finding a world filled with critters. Even now, in Woodford Square, just a few metres from the Newsday offices, there are active pokestops where, if you didn’t already delete the app, you can still find Ghastlys and Bellsprouts lurking behind the Aphrodite fountain.

Pokemon Go was one of the first times AR, a type of virtual reality (VR), was applied in such a massive scale and while it was for fun, the implications and potential extend far beyond entertainment. So far, in TT, VR is still in its nascence but its possibilities aren’t lost, especially among the gaming community and, somewhat reassuringly, among corporate entities. So far, it’s a novelty, something cool to get people interested in a company’s booth at an exhibition, but there are organisations in TT that are exploring the practical applications of VR to help us better understand the world beyond, an oxymoron previously consigned to the realm of science fiction.

Take retired Major Dirk Barnes. As part of the basic training he offers for security personnel at his company, Air Support Tactical, he uses VR to create a simulation of a crime scene or an attack where participants have to make split second life-or-death decisions, scarily mimicking a real life scenario. These simulations are so advanced that policemen use the service to sharpen their shooting skills. And CariGamers, local VR pioneers, have created true to life renditions of local hotspots like Maracas Bay that allow users to feel immersed in the environment without ever being there. More than that, CariGamers’ chief VR engineer Kerron Joseph has created simulations of what it’s like to walk down Frederick Street as a woman, including harassment.

But while we won’t be entering the Matrix anytime soon, VR applications are getting a lot more sophisticated. VR can be used as a teaching tool in classrooms. Engineers can create mock-ups of designs. In medicine, it can be used for treatment of diseases like mental illnesses, including Alzheimer’s. It’s also used for flight training. And just like Mr Barnes, security personnel can use VR for combat training while avoiding serious injury or death. Not bad for something often dismissed as a glorified video game.

And then there’s gaming. E-sports is more than just escapism, it’s big business. The International, the biggest gaming tournament in the world has a prize pot worth over US$30 million and broadcast on sports channels. In TT, e-sports is just now becoming mainstream, but there’s still money to be won. And because most of these games are played via the internet, the sky’s the limit for an intrepid local gamer willing to take on the world.

VR is more than just a fancy tech toy, and people who engage with them are more than just geeks or lazy or gamer nerds who spend all day in a realm of pretend. A lot of the people transforming the industry in TT are young and innovative and have found a way to transform their world beyond an often bleak reality where traditional jobs can be hard to find. They’ve created their own model and for that they should be applauded and encouraged. We look forward to them creating an augmented future.

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