Virtual Reality’s Fundamental Question
I’m going to work backwards, if that’s alright.
When in a virtual space, or any space for that matter, we always question identity and presence. It’s been with us since the dawn of our existence. Not to be too pragmatic, but when we were more primitive versions of ourselves, this question helped us not get eaten. If there wasn’t a good reason for being where we were, that was potentially a very, very bad thing and we’d get the hell out of there.
Similarly, if we’re watching a TV show and are left pondering why we’re watching something for too long, we almost always change the channel. That same survival mechanism loosely connects bad TV to us getting eaten by predators.
To go one step further, if it’s a place you’ve already identified as safe or worth your presence which is then compromised – say a show you’ve loved for some time suddenly wrought with bad writing and a character you hate, or a dwelling suddenly infiltrated by a predator — you’re met with a powerful, staggering feeling of betrayal. You immediately mistrust everything. Paranoia swells. Everything is questioned.
Every time someone puts on a headset to experience a virtual reality creation, the visitor is instinctively asking that same question Why am I here?
Now, one could argue if that question goes unaddressed or the answer is lame, the viewer can just flip the channel. And here’s where we need to put a stake in the ground about virtual reality versus television, film, and all other artistic mediums for that matter.
The core of virtual reality is experience and presence. That’s it. It’s fundamentally about being somewhere, which makes it significantly more about Why am I here? being a question of survival than watching bad TV. I want to think Brandon Braga thought that seriously about what he was doing, but it’s doubtful. His crafted Star Trek Voyager world wasn’t the entirety of my world at any given moment. It was a window I could glance away from. A door I could shut.
We can’t just change the channel if we’re in a bad VR experience. Pulling off a headset doesn’t even do the trick. Something very close to us has been compromised.
This is a huge responsibility for a VR creator. It’s an insane responsibility. Every time someone puts on a headset and enters an experience, we are asking that person for complete trust and commitment to being there, where we tap into something that fundamentally has lead to the survival of our species. Where the betrayal, or simple naivety, of that fact could really hurt someone – but where the celebration of that fact could result in something astronomically wonderful.
I’ll leave it at that for now so we can start at the beginning.
I hope to shed light on what I’ve been noticing in the format, to help you learn about VR as a medium, to question everything you know, and to create when you’re ready. That’s why you’re here. And I’m thankful and excited that you are.