What’s “retrofuturism” & how is it transforming the face of XR?

Virtual Umbrella
Jan 14 · 4 min read

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, chances are you’ve encountered an example of retrofuturism. Even if you didn’t know it at the time.

- Elon Musk’s new Cybertruck? Retrofuturism.
- Steampunk? That’s retrofuturism.
- That guy you know who‘s got a pair of Back to Future II sneakers? You guessed it! Retrofuturism. In a nutshell.

But what exactly is it?

Let’s break it down.

The word retrofuturism combines ‘retro’ and ‘future’. It’s a cultural/design trend that takes inspiration from retro sci-fi. (Think: Bladerunner-esque games like Cyberpunk 2077, or vintage-futuristic mashups like Tomorrowland 2015).

Retrofuturism is a movement in the creative arts showing the influence of depictions of the future produced in an earlier era. If futurism is sometimes called a ‘science’ bent on anticipating what will come, retrofuturism is the remembering of that anticipation.

E. Guffey, K C Lemay., Oxford Handbook to Science Fiction (OUP, 2014)

It’s an aesthetic of technology meets nostalgia. And, whatever you think of it personally, mainstream pop-culture of the 2010s shows us that it’s a style that’s here to stay.

But what about XR — one of the world’s most ‘futuristic’ industries? Surely there’s nothing old-fashioned or ‘retro’ about VR/AR?

Is there?

We’re here to give you the facts.

Retrofuturism & XR Game Design

Retrofuturism is, and will continue to be, a HUGE trend in XR game design.

For many, their literal ‘first contact’ with VR came in the form of…well… Oculus’ ‘First Contact’ — an adorable little game featuring 80s-sci-fi-y stylings & a robot character that wouldn’t look out of place in Short Circuit (1986).

It’s retrofuturisric to a T.

Does this 80s movie robot remind you of anyone?

Don’t believe us? Just ask the developers:

We drew from the inspiration of the ’80s: a magical decade when computers and game consoles moved from science fiction to household items and everything seemed possible.

But the trend doesn’t end there.

Check out the following XR experiences:
- all released in the last 2 years or so
- all drawing on retro ideas of what the future might look like (from Victorian inspired steampunk to 80s visions of robots & neon)

Retrofuturism & XR Hardware

But what about XR hardware? Is that retrofuturistic too?

Across the short history of mainstream VR/AR, headsets have largely been designed to look modern, sleek & simple. They’re generally one colour or monochrome. It’s easy to see the influence of Apple’s slick design playbook.

And yet… already key thought-leaders are looking backwards to look forwards — drawing from retro sci-fi imaginings of immersive technology to help design the next generation of immersive HMDs.

Just take a look at Korean-based studio PDF haus & their Givenchy-inspired VR glasses.

If the use of colour in this mockup looks familiar, there could be a good reason. The pink-purple combination is a staple of 80s sci-fi genre. Not to mention the iconic clashing gradient.

As long as retrofuturism continues to dominate mainstream design culture, there’s a good chance that big players will start to incorporate these looks into their immersive hardware too. (Even if it’s only through retro ‘special edition’ releases or other variants).

Will we ever see a funky gradient on an HTC headset?

Will Oculus ever release VR hardware that works with 80s/90s console designs (like the one featured in Oculus Home?)

Only time will tell.

Final Thoughts

So. There we have it.

From hardware design to game art, retrofuturism is transforming the face of XR.

And VR/AR businesses everywhere need to keep up with trend if they want to stay ahead of the curve.

Need help getting your business (retro)future-ready? Contact Virtual Umbrella today to see how we can support you. Email: bertie@virtualumbrella.marketing

Virtual Library

📚Your virtual reality reading list. Marketing tips, insights, news, interviews & more. Powered by VR marketing agency, Virtual Umbrella.

Virtual Umbrella

Written by

The world's first marketing agency for VR companies and brands. We also run awesome VR events in UK. Enquiries: contact @K_Samantha1

Virtual Library

📚Your virtual reality reading list. Marketing tips, insights, news, interviews & more. Powered by VR marketing agency, Virtual Umbrella.

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