Why VR Interfaces Suck Right Now

When you’re trying to tell a story, it doesn’t take long to realize how much the medium affects the message.

If you were trying to tell someone the origin story of a moisture farmer from a backwater desert planet who rescues two droids from the Jawas and goes on to save the galaxy, you could do it in a variety of ways.

You could draw a series of drawings; you could write a book; you could make a sculpture; you could write a song; you could write an Epic of Gilgamesh-style poem.

Film, with its expansive ability to portray the landscapes of distant planets, the scale of space battles, and the intensity of action, would probably top your list as the best way to convey the narrative. Lucas thought so too. But to make a film and fail to use its strengths would be doing the medium a huge disservice.

I mean, it could’ve worked with shadow puppets…

If you made a film by showing the pages of a book, turning them every few minutes or so for the viewer to read, instead of shooting and editing Star Wars in all its cinematographic glory, it would still tell the exact same story through the same medium. But the viewer would fall asleep. And the movie would fail, no matter how great the narrative might be.

So why would we take a medium like VR, with untold potential for creating immediate, powerful experiences for viewers, and with a capacity for conveying complex, nuanced information with added depth and immediacy, and fail to leverage its unique strengths and abilities? We’re doing exactly that by taking our decades-old 2D graphic interfaces from 2D mediums like our familiar flat rectangular screen-based computing platforms and injecting them into VR.

It makes no sense.

It’s like writing a description of a sculpture instead of making it out of clay.

It’s like using sign language to recite Finnegan’s Wake (an intensely confusing endeavor that might actually play well at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest).

While it’s a fine transitory step while we develop content and software for VR, and it makes sense for allowing backwards-compatibility (websites aren’t going anywhere too soon no matter how widespread VR becomes), it will ultimately become a huge limitation. It’s failing to capitalize on VR as a medium and as a computing platform.

With users interacting with a whole new dimension, the z-axis allows for exponentially more dense information conveyance. While people will probably continue to want to do things like check email, get stock quotes, and watch movies in VR just like they do on desktops, failing to innovate in terms of how we present this information to users indicates a lack of imagination.

Computing used to be in 1D — linear lines of code. With Xerox’s invention of the 2D Graphical User Interface, we expanded computing to two dimensions. It opened up a whole new world of usability and usefulness.

Now we’re facing another revolution in computing platforms. We’re going from 2D to 3D.

How can we ensure the leap to VR is just as revolutionary as the transition from DOS and pure lines of code to the robust GUIs of today in terms of user experience and the power to absorb, share, and create information, data, media, and experiences?

What does a truly 3D immersive operating system look like and how does it help VR become the most helpful tool humanity has ever invented and the most compelling art form we’ve ever created?

That should be our mission. May the Force be with you.

Originally published on YOTOVR.com, China’s preeminent VR news source