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Why Poker VR Is A Promising Model For Education In Virtual Reality

by Joan Newsome
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The idea of adapting online poker to virtual reality has been a popular one since the day modern VR became a reality. It ultimately wound up taking a few years for a decent version of this concept to materialize. Eventually, however, a sophisticated virtual poker game titled simply “Poker VR” made its way to the Oculus Quest. It wasn’t the first poker game to make it to virtual reality, but it quickly established itself as perhaps the best.

There are a few reasons for this, most of which come down to gameplay. The poker mechanics are smooth, the depth of the challenge is suitable for players of different skill levels, and the look of it all is quite convincing in VR (without it simply being a boring copy of real-life poker rooms).

Additionally, reviews for the game sometimes noted that it had an edge on its competitors when it came to interaction. Poker VR made players’ avatars expressive, and thus made it possible to attempt to “read” other players rather than focus exclusively on the cards.

For those involved with virtual reality in education, it may be readily apparent why a game like this serves as a promising model or example. All the same, it’s worth exploring the idea a little more closely, because there are some specific reasons why a sound VR poker experience like this helps to lay the groundwork for helpful educational applications:

Learning Through Experience

In a certain sense, the entire idea of VR education is to learn through experience. Even if a virtual reality program is merely simulating a class environment in an altered setting, going there is an experience for pupils. It is separate from the ordinary, and this helps to make learning a more active and practical exercise.

An application such as Poker VR exemplifies the concept of learning through experience, simply because it’s all about diving into the activity at hand. The typical beginner poker knowledge one learns when studying this game concerns rules, game sequence, betting techniques, and strategies, rather than simply terms and techniques.

And these are things best learned through hands-on experience. Beginners can enter Poker VR with only the most basic knowledge of poker, and learn through one game after another how it really works, and how to do better at it.

Of course, not every subject or lesson works the same, or has as much to do with practical experience. But the educational quality of Poker VR is still a good reminder that VR education allows for doing rather than just teaching.

Low-Pressure Immersion

This is a somewhat more subjective point, but it’s still an important one to make note of. Generally, for most users, Poker VR will involve significantly less pressure than learning poker at a real casino poker table might. Much of that has to do with the fact that real money isn’t at stake in this app.

But there’s also a social component to it. Playing with and against animated avatars in a setting that can be somewhat playful, one feels little pressure. Playing against live opponents in a real-world setting can be quite the opposite.

The hope, of course, is that this is an irrelevant distinction for educators — because, one could argue, it is part of an educator’s job to cultivate an environment free of judgment or undue pressure. Nonetheless, plenty of students are likely to feel more at ease trying things, answering questions, and otherwise taking constructive risks in a virtual environment.

Just as Poker VR makes things socially easy on beginning players, virtual education can help students to learn lessons in an environment that doesn’t make them feel threatened.

A Sense of Environment

The final reason that Poker VR makes for such a fitting model for educational applications in virtual reality is that it is an excellent example of world immersion. A recent piece here concerning extended reality specialist Keely Canniff explored this concept — of “virtual world building of educational and social environments — in direct fashion.

Canniff spoke of world building as a means of enhancing excitement for remote learning among students. And an app like Poker VR perfectly demonstrates just how strong a sense of environment one can gain from the right virtual reality application. The game wholly but playfully surrounds players with various poker settings, leaving the real world behind and providing a sense of carefree immersion. It’s a relaxing effect, and one that more educational applications should strive to match in one way or another.

The hope is ultimate that those working on education in VR will innovate on their own, and come up with ever-more-clever ways of getting students to engage virtually with the material. While this field is still developing though, it is helpful to look at some more established VR categories for examples of what works and what doesn’t. Considering things from this perspective, there is actually a lot for educational developers to draw from an app like Poker VR.

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