Recently when working on a VR game, I encountered an interesting issue. An inventory-belt system I built worked fine for me, but only because it expected a waist size similar to mine. As soon as someone larger came along, they were physically incapable of placing something into the belt, as the controller would need to pass through their body.

Size Matters

Now, this posed an interesting issue that had never really occurred in the world of gaming before. With VR, the player's body actually can impact the gameplay. You not only need to design your game for different systems, but also diverse body types. When considering accessibility in videogames or even general software before this point, the main focal areas were visual, audio, and input. With VR, this also extends to include body size. People come in all shapes and sizes, so VR content needs to acknowledge that.

After encountering this issue, I began experimenting with ways around it. Of course, I could specify a specific size that is reasonably large and have it the same for everyone. This workaround can be confusing for extremely skinny people such as me, as it doesn't feel like a belt and instead feels like I'm dropping something onto the floor. It's also an issue for larger people, as they are still unable to use it.

Solutions

An eventual solution I came up with was to start at a relatively small size that would fit a majority of the population, and provide a 'calibration' system that works by having the player stand up straight, and hold the controller to their waist. Whilst this can be a bit of a hassle for those who need to calibrate it, there isn't another way until we can reliably map our bodies into the game world.

Alternatively, just ignoring the existence of the torso is another option. An inventory system could be attached to the controller rather than a belt. While this does limit what VR applications can do, it's more accessible in the meantime. It's much better to have a decent product that most people can use, than something more immersive but only usable by a select few.

More Problems

I've also noticed body size issues in other games but manifested in different ways. For example, in many VR games, I've noticed that shorter players cannot reach high up items. This height problem is particularly prevalent in Job Simulator's Gourmet Chef simulation, where shorter players can't reach the fridge's highest shelf. Developers could solve this problem by scaling the game world for shorter players. Still, it's an issue that one could easily miss or disregard if not actively tested. In a traditional game, this would not be a problem as the game character is standard for all players. It's now more important than ever to have a diverse group of people develop and test the software.

Physical Disability

So far, I've only touched on problems that people without disability may face. When it comes to people with disabilities, even more issues pop up. People who require some form of mobility assistance will likely also need this in VR, which is in itself an interesting problem-space. Due to VR not being limited by standard physics, we may see new and creative methods of accessibility.

Conclusion

Being a new technology, VR comes with its own unique set of issues that we need to tackle collaboratively as an industry. Our findings could unlock a new understanding of how we perceive reality, as there is already growing evidence that our minds accept many facts about a virtual world. I'm excited to see where this industry leads.