Reality 102: Understanding AR and MR

Written by Patricia E. Vance, President, ESRB
November 10, 2016

Technological innovation is constantly pushing video games into the future. Most recently you can see this in the recent surge in VR products and games. Along those lines, you may have heard of AR and MR, but it is unlikely you or your kids have had much direct exposure to it. This article will discuss the differences between “augmented reality” and “mixed reality,” and how they are used in games.

What is AR?

Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (or AR) overlays virtual objects, images, and sounds over your surroundings. Modern AR makes your everyday surroundings into a playground in real time by using cameras and hardware. 

Geolocation can also be an important part of many AR games. Players can use GPS to to move around the real world to interact with the game. Whether you’re seizing territory for a team or finding new items to collect, AR can make everyday tasks more interesting.  

Some AR games are more action oriented, allowing players to battle virtual enemies projected over the user’s surroundings. Other games and apps use AR to incorporate digital elements into daily tasks. For example, an app may gamify your jog by motivating you to flee from a pack of digital zombies, or to sprint toward the spoils of a conquered kingdom.

What are some AR devices?

AR games have been around for years, dating back as far as the Nintendo DSi and the PlayStation Portable. In fact, AR games still release on current handhelds, and even home consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. But over the past couple of years the ubiquity of smartphones has given consumers the ability to experience AR games on their phones! Pokémon GO is among the best examples of how popular an AR game can be when combined with beloved characters!

What About MR?

Mixed Reality (MR) merges aspects of VR and AR into one truly innovative technology. MR incorporates virtual images and elements into the user’s field of view, creating a blend of digital and physical environments. This can seem similar to AR, but AR is more of an overlay, whereas MR technology allows digital images and elements to interact with your environment! MR is an exciting innovation, but it’s still some ways off from being available to consumers. 

Rest assured that regardless of the technology or device used, ESRB will continue to provide its trusted and familiar age and content ratings so you can make informed decisions about which games and apps are suitable for your family.