Taking the Reality out of VR

2017-10-25T15:07:49+00:00November 7th, 2014|Gaming, Musings|

We recently got our hands on a virtual reality dev kit in the NY office, and staff member Tim Agius wrote about the appeal of VR after his first experience with it:

One of my favorite places on Earth is a Japanese garden in the middle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and I have a ritual for when I visit. Inside that garden, at the center of all the ponds and plant life, there’s a small tea hut. I find a seat – not just any seat, it has to be along the wall looking over the front pond – and put something relaxing on loop in my earbuds.

And then… nothing. I stare at the water and sip my tea and try to shut out the world around me. It’s such an artificial tranquility – there are people everywhere, walking and talking around what is, in reality, a man-made façade in a giant metropolis. But for just a few minutes, I can pretend there’s nothing else beyond me, the tea, the water, and the trees.

Which is why, after playing around with apps like Guided Meditation, I identified so strongly with Ben Kuchera’s piece in Polygon on the power of virtual reality to strip away the outside world and leave us with the simple, peaceful feeling of solitude. “Much has been made of the ‘limitation’ of virtual reality,” he writes. “That it’s a solitary technology and it’s hard to share the experience with others.”

But for many of us, that’s the point. Gaming platforms have evolved so many means for letting reality in; we can see what our friends are up to, check in with leaderboards, watch TV, listen to music, share with social media, surf the web… But sometimes reality is the enemy, and it’s nice to see developers go the other way, too, finding new tools for letting us lose ourselves in interactive worlds beyond playing alone with the lights off and headphones on.

Like my tea ritual, VR is a manufactured sensation – the real world hasn’t gone anywhere, I’ve just forcefully hobbled my awareness of it – but that doesn’t make the feeling any less impactful. “This is the power of virtual reality, at least for me,” Ben explains. “Almost all of my experiences are already social, what I’m [looking for] are experiences that are truly isolated.”