5 things you should know about Virtual Reality

Originally published on STEMI Blog by Marko Luka Zubcic

The dreams and nightmares of Virtual Reality have been a valuable resource for pop culture throughout the past few decades, and have been instrumental in making it fashionable to raise questions about the nature of reality and the ways media interact with it, change it and shape it. The development of Virtual Reality in our real reality has been stalled for some time, but now it appears it’s time has come. How will this influence our world? Will we all become tuned in into the easier and safer world of Virtual Reality, abandoning the real reality altogether? Or is there a chance to make it work for our real world, making us better people by giving us more experiences and letting our imagination run wild? And if there is such a chance, how can we seize it?
Well, let’s begin humbly, by noticing five things about VR.

1. It’s about the sense of agency in an immersive environment

Virtual Reality (VR) is all about the feeling of doing something in a seamless simulation of a world — at least moving your head to look around the room, and desirably much more than that. The full sense of the world is enormously difficult to achieve, and most likely involves some meddling with the brain. If we are building it from outside in, however, we are drawn to start from sight and sound. Even though we surely wish to build the sense of touch and smell.

Furthermore, to have the VR experience without having to mount a ton of clumsy and expensive gear onto oneself would also help — and, really, headsets are getting more elegant. And then there is the sickness which occurs when the gap between the full sense of the world and the compulsion to register what we are experiencing as real is not closed. This sickness seems to be reduced significantly by one little aspect common to human experience — having a nose. What all of this means is that VR just might finally be available to the general public.

2. It really wants to go commercial

It was, obviously, Oculus Rift that got the developers and business interested again in the commercial possibilities of VR. The advancements in the VR technology have made this possible directly, but other technologically-driven but by now fundamentally social factors pitched in quite heavily as well — namely, we have significantlyexpanded the scope of possible VR applications.

3. It can be used for various purposes

From obvious applications such as gaming, to education and research, to medicine, to travelling or hanging out with your friends, possibilities of Virtual Reality are staggering, exciting and to some disconcerting. Aside from usual worries about the seductive nature of VR and the trappings of our monkey hearts that cannot resist the temptation to just wander into some other life, some uses of VR do strike one as a bit of a double-edged sword. For instance, Virtual Reality news just might turn out to alienate the viewers more from the troubling events in the world, as opposed to cultivate empathy and action as they are supposed to. But what all these applications, as well as all these fears, point to is the fact that Virtual Reality needs content to succeed.

4. It will need content developers

The other side of Virtual Reality is making the content of that reality — and this includes recording the material, but also giving it its function and reason for participation. For now, the highly specialized purposes like education and training are doing best in this area, but it is claimed that the ability of the industry to develop content interesting enough to the general public will be crucial for its success. So, content makers of the world — take notice. And while you’re at it, take notice of another development closely tied to VR, but in a way much more relevant, dangerous and promising.

5. It has an edgier sibling — the Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is essentially our usual reality experienced through a digital interface. And while we wait for the Virtual Reality to become a place where people communicate and organize and enjoy each other’s company, Augmented Reality will be where VR meets the real world. This is what makes it so weird and interesting — it can manipulate the real reality with less complex technological advancements. The real reality already takes care of the senses, so all Augmented Reality needs to accomplish is boost its informational capacity. Be it embedding the world with data, or giving it a fresh layer of crazy interactive content — Augmented Reality edginess lies in its “reality” part. The questions of what gets augmented, who does the augmenting, and in which way will it change our inevitably shared environment are questions of economic and social relevance that will spread much faster through the world then the more technically-needy and problem-specific questions of Virtual Reality. Also, making AR could be something more or less anybody can do.

Conclusion

With the development of tools to experience VR, the tools to create it will probably also become cheaper and easier to handle. This will enable many more people to join in the world-building, and the conversation about Virtual Reality will become a conversation about different worlds. The conversation we might start with the question: which world would you build?

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