Being okay with feeling uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable things happen in the real world all the time.
We bump into people. We spill things.
We get misheard.
We break up, we fall down.
We get upset, we stress out.
Uncomfortable things happen in virtual reality all the time.
The technical glitches are horrifying. Being trapped between worlds or caught up in the graphics is like being stuck inside a website that’s frozen on you. Only it’s 3D and you can’t escape for an excruciating minute or two.
Sometimes your controllers don’t move with you, momentarily feeling like you don’t have hands because the movement you are doing in the physical world doesn’t connect with what you are seeing in the virtual world.
On the outside, you don’t have control over who touches the sensors. If someone walks into the sensor, your whole world shakes and you feel a little dizzy.
These are just some of the things.
There’s the social experiences that are somewhat experiments in social behaviour. In these social virtual worlds, it feels like everyone is learning how to interact for the first time.
Then there’s the actual content that people have created for you to experience, and in these immersive worlds come situations that can also be uncomfortable.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with the director of a VR narrative short who asked me about the ending of the film and whether it was too long.
At the end of this particular film, you find yourself in a crime scene where you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Somebody turns to you and tells you to run away before you get caught.
It’s uncomfortable for many reasons. First, there’s no way that you can actually leave the space. No way to teleport, exit out the door. You just have to stand there and feel the excruciating pain of not being able to move until the scene ends, like a dream where you’re trying to run away and your feet are glued to the ground.
You also can’t react to the character that looks you in the eye and tells you to run away, you just stand there thinking ‘I dunno, man. Sorry. No can do.’
When the director asked me if we should cut the scene short because it was uncomfortable for other people, I was wondering whether people were just uncomfortable with feeling uncomfortable in VR, and whether that was actually somewhat revealing of ourselves.
Why would we change the way we experience new realities when it’s part of the human condition to feel everything?
Being uncomfortable is okay. It teaches us about who we are, how we react to situations, and challenges why we feel that way.
I don’t people should view VR as this forever magical / glowing / positive place where everything is awesome. We should create awesome experiences without having to cater for expectations that everything will make us feel good all the time.
I personally love the experiences that push us to feel different things. Fear, worry, shock, confusion, loneliness, trepidation...they are part of what makes us human. It makes you appreciate the power of this medium and what it can evoke in you, sometimes simultaneously with joy, awe and wonder.
So I said, leave it. Make them feel uncomfortable.
Don’t we remember emotionally charged events better than boring ones?
And don’t we want to create memorable experiences?
Embrace the uncomfortable. Learn what makes people tick, what pushes them, how far they can go. Experiment with reaction and expectation.
Make them feel many things, but don’t avoid the uncomfortable. Embrace it.