July 14, 2016

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality


We’re about halfway through 2016 and I swear more and more cool technology becomes used for gaming every day. We see virtual reality (VR) gear becoming extremely popular with so many platforms like Steam now having their own VR gear and games. Not only that, but now we’re seeing games like Pokémon GO which use augmented reality (AR) technology pop up and become extremely popular. It really feels like this year in particular has been a hotbed for new technologies for gaming, and it’s only going to get better from here.

For the record, neither of these technologies are really “new” per-say since there have been plenty of technologies that used AR or VR outside of gaming, but for the gaming industry this is some pretty revolutionary stuff. This also means that these types of technologies, while still expensive or fairly basic, are now readily available to the public.

So being part of the public, I’ve found that new technology can be pretty confusing. New technology that is constantly abbreviated is even more so. AR and VR are two technologies that bring about a similar experience, but in a completely different way from each other. So how do we distinguish them? What makes them unique?


I think the best way of differentiating between AR and VR is to define the two. This is literally stuff just off of Wikipedia, so don’t expect anything too fancy out of this. I’ll link the pages I used so you can read up a more in depth description of the technologies if you want.

Virtual Realitya computer technology that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment to allow for user interaction. Virtual realities artificially create sensory experience, which can include sight, touch, hearing, and smell. 

Augmented Reality- a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

Just from the description we can see the differences between the two. Essentially VR completely simulates the environment for the user, whereas AR uses the user’s environment and adds computer generated things to it. Let’s delve a bit deeper and use some examples to help distinguish the two a bit more.

Virtual Reality

As I mentioned earlier Steam has their own VR hardware and games. The hardware is the HTC Vive which can be purchased in the USA for the totally affordable price of $800+. Regardless of the price, this is pretty awesome technology and it’s only going to get more affordable once this hardware is in the market for a little while. Here’s a video of the Vive in action.

The video really drives home the purpose of VR. Essentially the whole purpose of this is for the computer to generate the environment around the player. The player is placed inside said environment. Through the sensors in the controllers and headset they are able to interact with the virtual environment. The point here is that nothing that is going on is real. The only thing that is real are your actions which guide the computer generated version of yourself and interact with the virtual environment.

Outside of gaming we can use this technology for plenty of other outlets in life. For example, it’s a lot easier to have a med student dissect a virtual person instead of a corpse. Regardless, education is one of the outlets I think of first when I think of using VR for a non-gaming purpose.

Augmented Reality

Pokémon GO is unbelievably popular. All kinds of people are playing it.  I hope it stays popular as this is an innovative use of AR for gaming purposes. The purpose of the game is to use your phone’s GPS to locate where you are in the real world. The phone tracks your location and will spawn Pokémon for you to catch. The app also uses real world landmarks or popular locations as Gyms for players in each of the 3 teams to capture or defend.

I couldn’t find a video that really portrayed the game play and wasn’t a long walk through or a mediocre Buzzfeed style “tips and tricks” video so I’ll use some pictures as a reference here.


This is my dorm room. That Pokéstop is lured by the same 2 people 95% of the time. They’re the real heroes.

In the picture above you can see my avatar on the map. This is the main part of the game and where you’ll most likely spend the majority of your time. This uses Google Maps, your phone’s GPS, and data to track your location and place you in a map. It can even separate the different biomes which have unique Pokémon. The map also shows where gyms and Pokéstops are located.

The avatar moves as you move, and since Pokémon are more likely to spawn while you’re walking it’s a good incentive to be active. This is AR since it uses your phone’s GPS data to generate a map that you interact with. It’s cool stuff, but I feel like the main “catch” (I’m sorry) of the game are the Gym battles and capturing Pokémon.

Just what I always wanted!

Another Pidgey! Just what I always wanted!

Once you track down a certain Pokémon or one randomly spawns for you you can attempt to capture it. This has two modes that you can switch between. One that uses AR which is cool but battery intensive and one that doesn’t which is much less battery intensive. You can swap between these two for the same Pokémon as well which is a great touch in my opinion.

The Gyms also have their own AR. Although, I don’t have a picture of that since I have the AR turned off about 99% of the time since it eats up a lot of battery. Regardless, this is AR that I feel like the common person can really appreciate. We get to see some of the Pokémon we grew up catching on our Gameboys in real life. The best part is that it’s so accessible since it’s for both Android and iOS!

As far as real life applications go for AR how about an architect using it for planning out a building? You could have a computer generated graphic of the building in the location it’s being built. This would provide a visual on how the dimensions of the building be in addition to the drawings and calculations already made.


VR and AR two acronyms that are being tossed around regularly in the gaming world right now. On paper they’re both pretty similar in what they’re both accomplishing at the moment. However, they are very different technologies. Both allow you to interact with a game world in one way or another. The way they go about creating said world is the big difference between the two. AR uses real world inputs to generate the world whereas VR creates the world from scratch. That’s the TL;DR of the post, really.

The best part of all of this is that both technologies are not even specifically gaming technologies! Games that utilize AR like Pokémon GO and VR equipment like the HTC Vive will produce media exposure and demand. More demand means more development!

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