The Real Potential of VR Is Overcoming The Limits of Physical Space

And What You Can Learn From A Mistake Proof Space

The scene sets the plot.
If you only listen to one thing I say, make it this.

Why do we seek out stories, and what do we expect from the places where we work, play, and live?

A year ago I was living in Budapest trying (and to be candid, failing) to create a shared space for hyper creative people inspired by these questions.

Why Budapest, how I got there, and what’s happened since, are stories for another time.

What I’ve learned by getting from there to here is the most valuable thing I have to share with you.

Space creates the limits of what we can do, in any reality.

We learn so much from the places we go. And yet there’s almost a stigma about sharing the best parts of our stories. The people, places, and things that move us most.

Mixed media projection on the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. Miss you, Budapest.

I think it’s because we know we’re going to fail to bring other people into where we’ve been and what’s so real about what we’ve done there. I know I’m going to fail in sharing the important parts of this story with you, here, now.

Yet here I am, sharing this with you anyway.

Without the details of a space to anchor us, we are lost. Confused about how to share an experience that is too rich to write, or say.

If only we had some way to bring people into those places in our minds where our memories are still alive.

The scene sets the plot.
Everything matters, everything is practice, and what we do where we are is everything.
If you only listen to things I say, make it these.

So what did I learn, specifically?

I still remember opening Unreal Engine for the first time. While I now use Unity to teach virtual reality, the experience would have been exactly the same if I’d started there instead.

The feeling doesn’t have a better word than magic.

Here you are, probably sitting at a cramped keyboard, with a pretty standard user interface for a modern design or programming app on the screen in front of you.

The Venn diagram Zen of VR.

If you’ve never used tools like Photoshop, Sketch, Maya, Autocad, Final Cut Pro, or even a common text editor, you might be a bit lost at first. Overwhelmed by the number of options, hidden within menus, offering too many things to choose from, and not enough guidance on where to start.

But there’s something very different about using Unreal, Unity, or any other game development & physics engine to make content for virtual reality. It’s the power of possibility present even in this 2d representation of a 3d place.

That’s the key thing you have to always remember about virtual reality. It’s the power of setting a scene and controlling the stage. Stories flow naturally when a space is well designed.

As authors, creators, actors, and players we are always doing what we do in a place. It isn’t a canvas, a file, a frame, or any other surface-and-window-like material that we layer our creativity onto. It is a space we are invited to inhabit–to live, explore, and move within.


These are the fundamentals

I wish someone had taught them to me years ago, but I’ve refined them for myself:

  1. Embodied practice in physical space depends on the same principals as good storycraft and experience design in virtual reality. We can learn a lot by practicing simple lessons and activities borrowed from other crafts.
  2. The components you work with when creating virtual content––scenes, lighting, actors, objects, materials, placement, presence, intentions, available actions, wayfinding, sequencing, narrative arcs, nonlinearity––are the exact same as what you rely on in film, architecture, food service, education, hospitality, and any other creative field with a common thread: paying attention to how people feel and what they do in a space.
  3. The number of things you need to learn before being able to make something surprisingly good is a lot less than almost anyone expects.
  4. Giving people a physical place to go and gather. A place where we can share stories you can step into. A space where we can accelerate our learning together. This is the most challenging thing missing for virtual reality to reach its hyper real potential.

Getting unstuck from a limited space.

The practical everyday flexibility of learning & teaching in a co-creative space brought me from a very stuck place in my life, just one year ago in Budapest, to being able to share this with you now.

I made a big mistake the first time around. I thought that if my space was limited, my options would be too.

“Talking about virtual reality is like dancing about architecture.” — Chris Milk

But when I wear a headset, hold these wand-controllers in my hands, and enter into a new way of looking at the world, a past experience, or a breath-taking imagination that isn’t my own… I feel an instant sense of joy from how much more I’m able to do. Can’t becomes can.

And, I know now there’s no way to tell you what I mean by that.

You’ll have to come with me and experience it for yourself to find out.

What you can learn from virtual reality is that a mistake proof place doesn’t exist. But a welcoming space that invites you to work, play, share, and create in new ways you haven’t yet imagined is the next best thing.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, and we face some of the hardest challenges together, it can be something even better.


Hit the ❤ below if you like.

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I’m teaching hands-on, introductory virtual reality classes and hosting weekend innovation workshops w/ Reboot at qlabs. If you’re in NYC or want to support what we’re doing from anywhere in the universe, now is the perfect time to join us.