Still Not Sold On VR? Here's What You're Missing

Still Not Sold On VR? Here's What You're Missing
May 18, 2017

There Is Already Plenty Of Great VR Content...


It's become conventional wisdom to assert that VR is still a nascent technology, with creators still figuring out how to best wield this new medium. While this is true to a degree, it obscures the fact that there are already plenty of fantastic—perhaps even breakthrough—VR experiences. Games such as Thumper (play it with the PlayStation VR headset and thank me later), narrative experiences such as Arden's Wake, and interactive music videos like Chocolate feel like completely realized (and ridiculously mind-bending) applications of the technology


Another issue is that many these A+ VR experiences are the sorts that have shown at film festivals such as South By SouthwestSundance, and Tribeca; and may not necessarily be widely distributed to the public for easy download. I think it's fair to say that the most widely publicized and distributed VR is often the worst: Disposable marketing experiences produced for brands looking to hop on the bandwagon (but more on that below).


...And Even More Not-Great Content


I've met plenty of people who have written off VR as a gimmick. Upon further inquiry, they all have one thing in common: Their only exposure to the technology has come in the form of non-interactive 360 video, which offers them the ability to look around in every direction, but not to actually engage and interact with the environment in any meaningful way. While there is plenty of great 360 content out there, as a general rule, it simply isn't as impressive as a well-done roomscale VR experience, which offers users the opportunity to physically move through a space, and have their movements tracked and translated into the virtual world.


To make matters worse, it's become a widespread practice for brands to use the term "virtual reality" to describe their 360 videos, creating confusion for consumers and perhaps even turning them off from the medium before they've had a chance to really experience it at its best.


It's About The Immersion...


The concept behind VR is a simple one: Co-opt enough of your sensory input so that a manufactured (or "virtual") world dominates your sense of reality. In practice, that means using eye-covering screens and ear-covering headphones (and occasionally other sensory tricks, such as haptics) to block out the outside world and maintain this illusion. The most amazing thing about it all is that it actually works.


The reason for this, of course, comes down to how our brain and nervous systems operate. At the risk of getting overly philosophical, our sense of reality is a construct that is informed by whatever sensory inputs we have at our disposal, and exists entirely between our ears. The more sensory inputs are added onto an experience, the more "real" it feels—perhaps exponentially so. There is clinical evidence suggesting that therapeutic processes that involve multiple sensory inputs are vastly more powerful in their ability to penetrate our nervous systems, and it stands to reason that VR's use of synchronized and all-encompasing sight and sound can have a similar effect in its ability to transport our sense of reality. It's also a logical conclusion that this could make VR a very important and powerful tool for therapeutic and medical applications. A great example I've seen some companies work on: Diversion therapy with the goal of transporting children undergoing chemotherapy from a cold and sterile medical facility to somewhere more peaceful and pleasant.


...And The Empathy


It's become a bit of a cliche to refer to VR as an "empathy engine", capable of putting you into other people's shows in a truly transportive manner. As is sometimes the case, this is one instance in which it's cliche because it's true: VR is simply very good at making you feel things you otherwise wouldn't feel, and understand experiences you wouldn't otherwise understand.


But the successful deployment of empathy isn't a given. Yes, VR's nervous system-mainling immersion makes it possible to bring out the feels, but a deft handle of artistry and storytelling are necessary to execute on this promise. In other words, if you haven't found a VR experience that has made you cry (the best part about these headsets is that nobody can see your waterworks), keep looking: I promise it's out there.

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