Virtual Reality – The Next Frontier

I’ve always been a huge gamer, and one of my earliest memories of playing video games is using the Nintendo Virtual Boy to play Mario Tennis when I was around six years old. The childlike wonder at being immersed in this alternate world is something I still remember incredibly vividly. Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with virtual reality and the idea of being transported without even moving. Unfortunately, as I got older I was less easily impressed and my future run-ins with virtual reality failed to wow me in the same way that Virtual Boy had. That was until I tried an Occulus Rift.

When the developer versions first came out, a friend of mine had been one of the original backers on Kickstarter and so got his very early on. I was incredibly excited to give it a try… to say that it was amazing would be an understatement. At the time, the go-to demo was the roller coaster, and you truly felt as if you were riding one, to the point where you actually got a bit sick (an issue I understand has since been improved). It was the first time that a virtual reality experience made me feel completely immersed and forgetful of my actual surroundings since my first experience with Virtual Boy so many years ago.

While I’m incredibly excited about what virtual reality will do for the future of gaming, I understand that there are still challenges in overcoming the nausea affects and that the nature of random user inputs in gaming presents technical challenges so it might be a bit longer until movement and controls are fluid enough not to break the immersion. That being said, what I’m most looking forward to in the next few years are the non-gaming uses of virtual reality. I think those are much closer on the horizon and will likely have a broader and more far reaching impact.

The one application that I’m most excited for is ‘guided’ tours of both current and historical landmarks and events. My hope is that not only will you be able to visit the Colosseum as it currently stands today, but also the Colosseum as it stood 2,000 years ago in all its glory and maybe even watch a gladiatorial event! The possibilities for what we’ll be able to see and experience are limitless, and I believe the power virtual reality will have for inspiring and teaching future generations could surpass even Wikipedia.

My favorite social product right now is SnapChat and one of the main reasons is the curated SnapChat stories. I’m not aware of any other product that does as good a job of providing a firsthand account of what it feels like to be at different events happening around the world, especially in real time. If you’re a young kid living outside a major city, I would bet it’s difficult to imagine what life is like outside of your bubble. You can watch videos, but those lack a certain element of intimacy. Something about knowing that the SnapChat story you’re watching was recorded in the last 24hours and that you’re seeing it from many different perspectives gives it an added depth and realism. Virtual reality will be able to provide that same kind of feeling, but on steroids. The internet has done incredible things to inspire people by exposing them to so much information and by helping them realize that there is so much to offer in this world: virtual reality will take this another huge step forward.

My love for virtual reality is not without concerns; when I’m feeling pessimistic, I worry that civilization as we know it could collapse once virtual reality becomes as realistic as everyday life. If you’re not happy with your life, why would you choose to live it when you could escape to a world dreamed up by your imagination, where you’re cable of doing anything and everything. I remember thinking when I first saw Inception it was a pretty good parallel for virtual reality. In particular, there is one scene where my boy Leo comes across a group of people who have chosen to live their lives in ‘the dream’ — my fear is that people will do the same once lifelike virtual reality exists. On the flip side, for the old and infirm living there lives out through virtual reality might offer a better alternative.

While my optimism and pessimism for virtual reality might be way off base, one thing I do know for certain is that I’m incredibly excited by what virtual reality offers for the future, whatever that may be. My hope is that it will be more than just immersive gaming experiences. But, if I’m wrong I certainly won’t be opposed to playing some of my favorite childhood games from a truly first person perspective.