Late to the Party in VR

where have you been all my life, tilt brush.

For at least the past year, and probably more like three years, I’ve held out on VR, wouldn’t even try it. It was mostly easy because to be honest, it’s expensive to get set up for it unless you have a commercial interest in developing or selling VR experiences. Casually trying it out generally involves waiting in a long line at some kind of social function for your alotted 5 minutes of looking like a vulnerable fool at a party.

Let’s take a moment to address that scenario — an increasingly common sight at tech-adjacent art parties — where you are witness to someone else having a VR experience. It’s an awkward sight to watch the corporeal body of someone interacting in an ephemeral space. It reminds me of the time I watched a baby goat take its first steps when I was young. It’s grotesque in its way, while also showing you a kind of helpless vulnerable side to fellow humans. Anyways, between the lines and being the subject of that spectacle, I said “no” to VR for as long as I could, despite taking some amount of pride in being on the vanguard of weird visual experiences.

For a minute, it started to feel like an ethical or idealistic stance against VR, but in honesty a growing number of friends and close acquaintances were getting used to me basically dismissing their hard work because “I don’t do VR.” It’s very hard to face your kind friend Isaac repeatedly and tell him that you aren’t going to try his magical donut experience because you’re intimidated by this awkward and new thing that might swallow up my life. The fact is there are just some technological parties I don’t like to show up to before I’ve received a proper invitation. This is me clearly me being a spoiled brat of creative technology.

Having received my proper invitation (work!), and my boxes full of gear, I’m now playing catch-up and downloading as much as I can and watching terrible youtube videos of conference talks by VR experts to try and wrap my brain around this thing. I’m sitting on imaginary stones and teleporting into spaces that feel cool and tender and difficult on the eyes. I’m getting pestered by particle systems and cute robot characters and feeling incredible loneliness after an hour perfecting my 3D brushstrokes.

I’ve only been at this for a week, but I already have OPINIONS. I’m curious to see how these opinions develop as I start building my own imaginary spaces and exploring the possibilities of interaction with these magical controllers. Will I become jaded? Will I find my niche and care? The thing that is immediately clear is that despite the VR hype, the breathless 360 fever, and the noise, the empathy machines and the greenscreened immersive artistry, the VR context is still wild and disappointing yet oddly magical, and we’re all just making it up as we go. What is VR ART? NOBODY KNOWS! but we all have ideas. Oddly this is a massive comfort to me.

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