Three Things We Learned About VR At The Zurich Game Festival

Three Things We Learned About VR At The Zurich Game Festival

It’s been three years since the Ludicious festival was launched in Zurich. 2017's ended with record attendance, with almost 700 games industry professionals coming together during the Business segments, and almost 5,000 punters visiting the open Family days.

The event was organized in cooperation with the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, which organises summits on serious games and on VR/AR. And there were plenty of practical VR talks on the main stage, alongside those about mobile and console games.

The expo area was dominated by European indie and student games and there was great showing from the mobile sector. One of our favourite 2016 mobile games, Nerial's Reigns, won the International Competition prize.

Our top three VR/AR-related gems are:

1/ VR games could help tackle Alzheimer's disease
2/ VR body swaps can build empathy with others
3/ The importance of interface design in VR

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 VR games could help tackle Alzheimer's disease

    VR games could help tackle Alzheimer's disease logo

    Does participation in video and VR games have a positive effect on the human body and brain? Professor Eling de Bruin from ETH Zurich thinks so. He spoke about design considerations for games intended to improve the health and mobility of older adults. Games, he suggested, could be great news for elderly people and those with disabilities.

    As one gets older, there is a decline in sensory functions and a loss of grey and white matter that occurs naturally. At the same time, we see increasing mobility issues in adults, with almost a quarter of people over the age of 65 sustaining falls – usually not related to immediate environmental factors or their own physical condition, but something in their brains which leads to imbalance.

    “Is this inevitable or can we influence it?” asks de Bruin. In fact, many of the negative changes caused by ageing are actually caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Mobility problems go up in care homes but, “it’s not biology, it's behaviour” - physically and cognitively we might be able to influence this. The WHO says that adults should invest in their physical and cognitive abilities to avoid disability in older age. Not just conventional strength training, but 'executive function'; the way that the brain communicates with the body.

    Enter games, particularly immersive ones which use all of a person’s faculties. People who danced in Dance Dance Revolution for 12 weeks had better cognitive and executive function and reduced fall frequency. Scientists like de Bruin are now advocating research and investment in 'exergames'. These are virtual activities and simulations which engage the brain and body together, and encourage coordination between the two. The American college of sports medicine is using games that target specific areas of the brain.

    Developing spatial orientation skills seem to help prevent early stages of Alzheimer's, perhaps by encouraging changes in the hippocampus. And rehabilitation for people with strokes is noticeably better with VR games than with just physical exercise alone.

  • 2 VR body swaps can build empathy with others

    VR body swaps can build empathy with others logo

    Marte Roel of BeAnotherLab spoke about his art project using VR projection to get inside another person’s head. Using a VR headset which also has a 360-degree camera on it, a variety of situations are created where the user literally sees through the eyes of another. The installation even coordinates your movement so that looking down will show you the hands and body of the other person, moving as you move.

    It’s about 'embodied narratives' and it’s very powerful. “Could we feel ourselves inside another person?” asks Marte Roel. He drew parallels with the renowned phenomenon where you can be made to feel pleasant brush strokes or pain in a fake limb by observing it in front of you.

    This VR art installation draws on scientific papers around identity and empathy, and the process of mirrored neurons and social interaction. “A monkey gets the same activation in the brain whether they’re grabbing a banana themselves or seeing you grab the banana,” revealed Marte Roel. Your brain also acts differently when you see somebody you know experiencing danger, than if you see a stranger. Could VR 'body swaps' encourage you to identify with strangers?

    “Familiarity promotes the blurring of the self and the other in the neural representation of threat,” said Marte Roel. His art project uses the idea of POV projection using VR headsets to cross boundaries of gender and body identity. And he’s hoping that people will use this kind of experiment do go deeper into shared experience. “The term ‘empathy’ is not used very critically in the VR space,” concluded Marte Roel. “There’s not enough reflection about it by people building VR projects. There are different types of empathy and different ways of acting empathetically – ‘compassion’ for instance.”

    You can find out more at BeAnotherLab’s official website.

  • 3 The importance of interface design in VR

    The importance of interface design in VR logo

    “Virtual Reality Tools For Work” was the title of Janina Woods’ talk. She works at Inspacion, an ETH Zurich spin-off company, developing b2b software in the VR sector. Her team is currently building a 3D architecture planning tool to create meeting spaces and retail spaces in VR. The premise of her talk was about how to create interfaces and software tools specifically for VR – it’s not the same user experience as other platforms.

    She insists on three tools for an interface in VR:

    1. No screen-space thinking. Your virtual interface shouldn’t just be the flat screen from a monitor beamed in front of your eyes. Woods posited that the Oculus Home presentation is a bad example: it just puts the screen interface into the virtual world. An interface ought to make better use of the 3D space around you. Woods reminds us of the 'exit burrito' metaphor from Owlchemy Labs' VR game Job Simulator 2050 where the user has to eat a burrito to leave the level – one bite to activate, two to confirm.

    2. Real life movements should be mixed with the magic you can only get in VR. Why limit the interface to actions you can just make on any computer? Don’t just push buttons. Have something go big and bright.

    3. Build consistent tools that encourage learning via muscle memory: you should get to know instinctively how to do stuff in the virtual world you’ve created, and it should work consistently across all the experiences you create with it. Users of your software should become familiar with the conventions: throw an object over your shoulder to delete it, for instance, or put an object on your head to suspend it for later – actions you can learn and repeat every time you fire up one of your VR applications.


    Ludicious will return in 2018. And the publishers of have also announced another VR industry conference in June in America! VR Connects San Francisco will take place on 27th and 28th June, and tickets are already available.

COO, Steel Media Ltd

Dave is a writer, editor and manager. As our COO, he gets involved in all areas of the business, from front-page editorial to behind-the-scenes event strategy. He began his career in games and entertainment journalism in 1997 and has since worked in multiple roles in the media. You can contact him with any general queries about Pocket Gamer, PC Games Insider or Steel Media's other websites, conferences and initiatives.