Kids in VR — a quick anecdotal thought or two

“Oh ignore all that” I say clicking past the no children under 13 warning and plunging my daughter into space. She’s in a small spaceship drifting outside the entrance to the nearby space station. Ships glide past impossibly close, engines humming, performing last second twisting and turning docking manoeuvres. Light from two brightly burning distance suns glint off the giant torus, slowly revolving to provide gravity to the agricultural fields within.

“Wow” she says before doing what all three of my kids immediately did.

  1. Reach out for the controls on the ships console before them.
  2. Say “Oh, where are my hands”.
  3. Look all the way round behind them, promptly standing up to attempt to walk to the cockpit door behind the pilots seat. I gently guide them back each time.

They were in Elite:Dangerous with the Oculus Rift VR helmet and I was using a 2nd monitor to see what they could see. Having kids means you sometimes get to try out tiny experiments, I wanted to see what their 12, 8 & 6 year olds reactions would be.

When I got the youngest floating through space, I think I finally found the the thing in technology that I knew I was too old to instinctively get.

I’ve been searching for this for a while, the thing that’d make me feel old. Not something I don’t understand but rather that my brain just doesn’t quite do.

I could see she was experiencing it all differently to me, when I put on the VR goggles I think to myself “I’m going into virtual reality now”, she was different…

Being approached by a Dinosaur while playing Don’t Let Go

Over the next hour she explored under the sea with fishes and sunken boats, threw herself off tall buildings, drove a truck (badly) across the UK, lorded over a dungeon spread out before her (which is amazing btw), survived a dinosaur sniffing around and as a giant took huge steps across mountains and lakes.

…she took it all in her stride, that’s when the feeling struck me, the one I can’t quite find the words to explain. But this is as close as I can get.

I call a touch screen a “touch screen”, because it’s a screen you can touch as opposed to a “normal” screen. To a kid under ten a touch screen is a “screen” and a “normal” screen is broken.

A child happily prods, pokes, slides and swooshes between apps on a phone or tablet. Changing from one game to another in VR is still a faff, but even with that friction my youngest was having no trouble with context switching between different realities. Virtual Reality is the “touch screen” that kids will just get, it’ll just be how things work.

At 6 she’s probably right at the upper “always been part of her life” boundary. I can still see it though, she’s growing up knowing what it feels like to fly… sort of… in a VR fashion. Knowing what it’s like to float in space, dive underwater, leap to the top of a castle.

She’s having experiences with weight, scale, location, colour, space and so on that I never had as a kid. She’s going to be multiple reality native, and this one, the “real” one is going to be in some ways broken.

And that’s the part my brain won’t be able to get. No matter how much I want to, no matter how happy I am to put on the VR head set (and I’m very happy to do so), I will never have the experience of always having had the experience of moving through strange lands.

Our kids will grow up knowing what it’s like to fly.

Epilogue — in the game.

The game that had the biggest reaction with all three was Skyrim (with the help of VorpX). Experiencing VR is hard to explain, both written down and on video, you have to be inside to really understand the size and effect. The game world is no-longer trapped within a rectangle, it’s all around you.

I’d made various save games at points in the world the kids often went to, all three play Skyrim to various extents and all three knew Belethor’s General Goods store in Whiterun inside out. That’s where I dropped them into VR first.

Suddenly they weren’t looking at the store from outside the world, they were in it. Properly in the store, standing looking at the counter and Belethor fidgeting around on the other size. Turning your head you saw the table, wall hangings, crackling fireplace.

For them it was magical, to be inside the thing they’d seen so often on the screen, transported into the actual game.

I look forward to when I retire and can join them and my grandchildren in some distance world… and blow shit up.

This article was original posted at kids in VR