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How to start a (VR) revolution!

Nural Choudhury
Feb 17, 2017 · 8 min read

Despite most of 2016 having been taken up by the US Election. 2016 also saw the rise of chatbots, virtual reality, automation and made business transformation design ‘trendy’ again. Another strong year for UXers, Designers, Creatives and our profession as a whole. However, a slow year for the investors, influencers and change makers.

We all yearn for the frictionless spread of technological solutions. However, scepticism and the conventional channel of influencing change (speech) has contained the revolution.

The bubble has burst in China’s VR industry, with about 90 percent of start-ups in the domestic market declaring bankruptcy and Zuckerberg cautiously asking his investors for patience.

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Mark Zuckerberg © Facebook

The sickening amounts of money pumped into this ten-year gamble have left little room for smaller manufacturers.

Microsoft, HTC, Facebook and Sony have eaten up the market and blocked many important channels for innovation within the sector. The remaining players have pivoted to content production for live broadcast, social networking and storytelling fields.

Even with these investments into demystifying the platform, only 30 percent of smartphone users have expressed any willingness to jump onto the VR headset bandwagon and buy a device. Definitely not a significant enough margin for self-sustainability.

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So what are the forces of resistance?

We cannot be sure. Some people criticise VR as a “needless luxury”; while other’s are frustrated with the lack of meaningful content and the isolating aspect of the medium.

The most visible and immediate area of resistance is awkwardness. The feeling of being uncomfortable wearing/using a device. Might sound silly, but I can tell you — it is a bit awkward, you standing there watching your friend going “oh no! Wow!”.

They not knowing if you are (still) watching them; you feeling stupid from just standing there not participating in the experience, possibly laughing/filming or trying to interact in some way. All a bit creepy, right?

Secondly, the invisible problem is the anticipated benefits of VR. What are the advantages and efficiencies gained by Virtual Reality and its compatibility with pre-existing tasks?

In the era of iPhone, Facebook and the Cloud, we have become enamoured with ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We cannot see the frictionless, “turnkey” solution to the difficulties in the world around us. Hunger, disease, poverty, overpopulation and social injustice. So some of us question how VR can help us make the world a better place and by shutting ourselves away from the realities of life are a mere form of procrastination and avoidance of the bigger problems that exist today. Deep huh?

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Nokia OZO

The final barrier is quality content. Of course, over time quality of content is going to increase. Makers will find better more efficient ways to create content over time. However, the points of access for producers now remain very expensive. £45K for an OZO and £15k for a single Red Dragon. Despite the cost of equipment, an area that seems to have struggled is engaging narratives. Shocking really, VR is the perfect way to allow someone to step through stories (in a passive sense).

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Define a strategy

Humans have a powerful social immune system that protects us against unwanted attempts to influence our behaviour.

Measured by three key factors: control, time and self-esteem, any change in these factors alter our motives for any activity or use of an item.

Self-esteem — One’s self-esteem is an essential human need that is vital for survival and normal, healthy development. Self-esteem arises automatically from within and is based on a person’s beliefs and consciousness. In conjunction with a person’s thoughts, these feelings determine a person’s actions.

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Influencing one’s self-esteem is hard, we must prove the benefits of VR and prototype, sketch and show that (possibly) virtual classrooms will create better teaching experiences. Drones controlled in virtual environments can make us better killers and shared experiences virtually will make us better humans. Without proving the motivational benefit, the problem remains invisible beyond indulgence.

A way to solve this is to provide better access and create spaces and areas to experience VR/AR. Isolation areas, experience labs. Sectors that are similar to reading rooms, meditation rooms and study rooms.

A good start would be to integrate these ‘rooms’ into Public Libraries over the next few months. Either supported by taxes or sponsored to serve the public interest; open to all and in a free place where every community member can have access.

We have to consider VR experiences as an essential part of having an educated and literate population.

Time — Convincing your consciousness that you are investing time rather than wasting time is also difficult. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms seem to isolate us rather than connect us socially.

Our society sees little value in separating ourselves further and striking up conversations with strangers via VR than investing time to communicate in the real world.

The experiments with social virtual reality experiences that we have seen are weird. Facebook’s demo app (while still being an experiment) allows you to chat with avatars of your friends, travel to places and take virtual reality selfies to share to Facebook. All very superfluous and inferior against all the other channels of communication we have today.

However, allowing people access to the technology in social spaces may make these experiments seem less weird and could be critical for mass adoption.

Control — Everyone needs to be in control of his or her life and needs to make conscious decisions about the things they do. If they are not, their self-esteem is affected. People who say they do not have any concerns about control have shown an enormous amount of trust in the people they follow and the individuals they associate with.

The decisions they make are based on the opinion of trusted people and decide whether to try something new based on their views and are usually introduced to the ‘new’ thing by this confidant.

There is one problem still, meaningful content. So what makes meaningful content in an immersive world?

David Ogilvy once wrote: “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’”

In other words, if you are looking for something more, then you have to prompt action. Moreover, that means you have to stir something in the audience before they will do something.

How do we do that with VR?

Theoretically with Active participation. Having users as an active participant of a narrative does not always mean interactive theatre or gaming, but instead creating the subtle illusions of choice.

Creating pieces that enable the viewer to decided how the story progresses and providing them with some control over the experience rather than being a passive consumer.

That being said “Pearl” just became the first virtual reality project to be nominated for an Academy Award, it is still (for all intents and purposes) an animated short, on-rails experience.

We need to create something groundbreaking. A story that is so vivid that it prompts a vicarious experience in which the outcome of the story unfolds based on simple actions. Actions as mild as the gazing time in a particular direction while an individual is talking to us.

I will write larger more detail post as I get further down the line, but with the use of AI and a good writing team, we can create an organic, interactive narrative experience.

Interactive storytelling by this definition allows the user to generate several different narratives. Fully unauthored in an AI environment with a comprehensive human-level understanding of narrative construction that uses branching stories that conclude in variable senarios.

Have I lost you? Think about the Jackson and Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy Game books.

The text of a Fighting Fantasy game book never progressed in a linear fashion, but rather is divided into a series of numbered sections.

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Gamebooks developed by

Beginning at the first section, the reader typically must pick one of a set of options provided by the text, each with a non-sequential numbered section which in turn presents an outcome for the option chosen.

The story continues in this fashion, the reader continuing to pick other numbered sections, until their character is stopped by the story or killed in combat, or completes the quest.

Rather than having the protagonist roll a six-sided die to resolve skill challenges and the combat sections. We would use subliminal gesture and gaze activation models to make choices in an attempt to finish the story successfully.

The success of an interactive narrative is evaluated using a series of criteria. These are; interestingness, immersion, scalability, domain independence, agency and re-playability.

Not an easy feat, but definitely Academy Award Winning calibre of narrative if high-levels of all of these criteria are achieved.

I will write more on this as I get further down the line, but AI and VR can certainly work as one to provide meaningful, immersive content.

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In conclusion

None of these techniques is going to make anyone do something they do not want to do. In fact, more often than not the desired action has to be in their best interest first and foremost, and yours secondarily.

Now we have the technology that enables us, we have entered an exciting era of storytelling with a level of freedom that few have experienced before. It becomes our responsibility to offer hope and not to waste that chance and to find the balance between the weird and the inherent benefit of this new technology.

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