Virtual reality in 2027: One world vs. many

Photo: Hall of mirrors by Mike Pennington

Ready Player One (no spoilers here!) imagines a world in which one virtual reality universe (the OASIS) has taken over. People put on their VR headsets, log in, and land straight in the OASIS. The OASIS is plenty big and has variety enough for anyone, but it’s still a virtual reality controlled by one company.

I think Facebook would like to believe that’s the path we’re on. So much so that they bet more than $2 billion on the purchase of Oculus, makers of the Rift VR headset. Facebook today connects two billion people in their two-dimensional user interface and they’re doubtless itching to take those people into a full 3D environment in which they spend a much larger portion of their lives.

I’m sure that Facebook can pull a bunch of people into a new VR universe, but I don’t think the OASIS is coming. Today, there are several large social networks scooping up time and attention. Why wouldn’t there be multiple VR universes? We’ve got two dominant mobile OSes on which people use an average of thirty apps per month. You’re probably reading this article in a web browser, which gives you access to millions of websites.

Instead of the OASIS, why can’t we have something more like the web? Virtual Grunt, the latest book by my pseudonymous, ahem, brother, Barnaby Quirk, describes a sort of VR home base, for which the main character pays a small monthly fee. From there, he goes to his launcher, which is a room leading to the various virtual worlds that he likes to spend time in. I’m imagining this launcher as the VR version of our web browsers.

The launcher-based view of VR is quite different from the OASIS. Virtual Grunt may focus its attention on Everything League, a multifaceted game, but there are also scenes in which the main character virtually attends classes, and those classes are completely disconnected from Everything League. In Ready Player One, there are some chat rooms that are mentioned as being “standalone simulations,” separate from the OASIS, but those chat rooms still seemed to be hosted on computers from Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company behind the OASIS. Why wouldn’t there be many companies providing VR experiences that are all connected via the Internet, just like the web of today?

What do you think? Will we have one VR universe which sucks us all in, or will we have many?

Kevin Dangoor cannot tell you where he last saw Barnaby Quirk, but he can tell you that the all-ages-friendly Virtual Grunt is available at Amazon and for order wherever books are sold.