As a person who has never been much of a gamer (not in the way we talk about gaming and gaming culture today) I have had mixed feelings about the approach of VR over these past four years. It’s been an incredible development to watch VR and Oculus go from a Kickstarter in 2012 to a fully realized product delivered into people’s hands in 2016. But given VR’s heavy relationship to gaming, the enthusiasm I felt has always been tempered by the question of what the experience of virtual reality will hold for those of us who are not particularly interested in the gaming experience.
As someone who hasn’t had the chance to experience VR (and quite frankly may not for quite a long time), I’ve only been able to imagine what can be done with such and immersive space and experience. As an artist, particularly one drawn to creating audio and visual experiences of space and narrative, virtual reality is fertile ground for imagination, one I can’t wait to play in. To me, VR isn’t about gaming, it’s a whole new rich media. The possibilities seem endless, particularly when it comes to the social experiences that can be had (that’s saying something for an introvert).
VR as a Creative Space?
There have been a handful of projects and experiments in VR that have given a glimpse of what’s possible outside of the gaming experience. Oculus Story Studio, Alchemy VR, and Google’s TiltBrush, just to name a few. But it is a medium in its infancy. Video has been around well past 100 years and the embrace of non-linear forms has rarely materialized. A similar problem may exist within VR. I certainly hope not. Can VR be something more than simply a deeper emersion experience?
The hardware has raced forward at an incredible speed. It’s barely three years between Oculus Rift DK1, and Oculus Rift CV1, but the change is extraordinary. But with this charge forward brings a storytelling problem. The new Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR headsets behave and look close to real life. Screen door and latency has been nearly obliterated. The hardware is challenging our brains to differentiate with real life.
Hardware mimics real life, and real life timing. Whilst current non-gaming VR content relies upon existing forms of linear narrative.
The challenge of making something more out of VR other than titillating experiences seems challenging. That being said, I am excited at what my first experience with VR might bring. Till that time I look forward to the breath of new projects coming out with the final launch of VR. One that has me excited is FOO VR, one of the first fully VR talk shows as well as a production platform. Before FOO VR, Will Smith was the co-creator and presenter at Tested and did a fantastic job creating quality content. I’m excited to see what he can do with the format in this medium. It’s an approach built around an experience with VR that can be a touchstone to a lot of virtual reality’s social, iterative, and community-based possibilities.
Last year, when I had my first social interaction with another person in virtual reality, something amazing happened. Within moments of seeing the other person’s avatar —it was just a simple representation of a human head and hands — I realized that my brain was perfectly willing to treat the most rudimentary representation of a person the same way it treats flesh and blood people. It’s kind of the inverse of the uncanny valley — if it tilts its head like a person and moves its hand like a person, my brain will happily accept that it’s a person.
After seeing that demo, I got obsessed and talked to everyone I knew about my experience. At the time, hand controllers were ultra rare, so few people I spoke with had shared that first taste of social VR, but people started to get it. When I was telling my friend Mike about it, he asked an important question. “Could you make the kind of shows that in VR that you did on Tested?” With that conversation, FOO VR was born.