The VR hype train is full steam ahead going into 2017 and whether it goes anywhere on the tracks of reality or not I love hanging out in the front carriage. 2016’s seen it come to fever-pitch with competitors to HTC’s Vive being churned out every couple of weeks (Google’s Daydream with the Pixel phone is a brilliant duo of tech hardware). Of course, with competition comes accessibility and we’re all going to be plugging in soon enough.
Earlier this year the owner at MadeBrave (the team I work in), Andrew, chatted at The Google Academy in Glasgow about VR and the future of it. Before that, in the name of research, of course, the studio seemed to have every VR gadget going (Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, Google Cardboard, Playstation VR — all of it!). I won’t lie, I was sceptical at first, it was a glorified 360-screen Playstation, with worse games. I couldn’t have been more wrong and that world really suckers you in. It only takes a few minutes to completely stop thinking about how much you look — well, a little bit strange (punching pockets of thin air with a block of plastic dangling off your forehead will do that). The most bizarre part for me was strapping the headset on for the first time and looking down into a spacey void of the simulated cosmos. Although it feels like you’re RIGHT there, there’s nothing there to see. No hands, no body, no feet. Call it virtual but the experience in there is very real and only begs us to return to Philosophy’s age-old question;
“If not my body, then what am I?”
So why am I convinced it isn’t another flash in the #Trending list? Being in a studio decked out with every version going I’ve had some real hang-time in that Universe, but I’ve also witnessed a lot of ‘first experiences’. I can honestly say; I haven’t seen anyone take the headset off in anything other than awe. I had to start thinking about where it goes from that sense of awe? How tangible could the outputs from a virtual world really be?
Imagine an offshore worker puts (virtual) reps in to learn how to navigate out of an upside-down helicopter submerged in water, or a smoke-filled room, in the virtual world. He puts in countless hours in comparison to the physical ‘real’ life mock scenarios. The consequence is a saved life. Using 360˚ video a social worker is exposed to a variety of bullied children’s first-person perspectives and is able to show greater empathy while counselling. The consequence is a saved life. Is it still virtual?
Once you plug in then nothing in that world is ‘real’, except the floor you stand on and the triggers you pull. The feelings you catch in there are very real, though. And guess what? So are the consequences of actions that could be taken — based off the back of an experience. Is it still virtual?
That envelope of experience could go as far as you let it push you. Some of the most mind-bending experiences are going on behind those little goggles. It’s going to create a lot of earthquakes in lots of industries. In my eyes (or maybe more appropriate, my headset) reality is created when decisions we make are informed by any external stimulus, real or not! Games are not reality, neither are myth and religion, dreams or stories. But the effects of gazing through those lenses and decisions, consequently actions, we make can be very real — and that’s what excites me about VR the most. I’m fascinated with futurism, especially when moments like this come along and it feels like we’re so intensely at the front of a new direction of reality.
Even in a room full of strangers, you’ll feel a million miles away. It definitely makes the cleavage between subject and object, self and experience, much wider which is an exciting area for marketing and training to explore.
The only thing that lingers in my gut is that like all human experiences, they’re just not amplified in the same way when they’re not shared. The curse but also the blessing of VR right now is it’s incredibly isolating. Give that time and there’s no doubt we’ll all be plugging into the matrix together. Queue the strange experiments, and the day we stop prefacing the word reality with virtual.