Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey has some pretty interesting thoughts on virtual reality in the video below (from Maximum PC magazine). That makes sense, since his product (now owned by Facebook), has quite literally been the jumping off point for a major movement toward VR. Watch the video, then keep reading for some of my reactions.
Lots of his comments left me realizing that concepts I'd grown up seeing in sci-fi movies was finally in the realm of possibility (in the near, if not short, term). For example, we could meet other people in virtual environments; forget Google Hangouts or Apple FaceTime--think Star Wars holograms without the monochrome blue and lo-res horizontal lines. He raises the intriguing thought: if you only see and hear a person, what does it matter if they're physically present? Other ideas just make a lot of sense: why buy a giant TV when a small headset nets you a better field of view and higher fidelity for much less money?
Part of this video even shows us Mr. Luckey venturing into the somewhat creepy realm of touch-based feedback being incorporated into VR. This will certainly happen eventually and will undoubtedly have some great (potentially groundbreaking) applications in the realms of gaming, science and other pursuits, I'm sure.
But, as motion controlled gaming has proven over the last console generation, we don't necessarily want to mimic every action that our on-screen avatars do. Swinging Link's sword in Zelda from our couch may be fun, but few of us probably want to really duck behind the sofa like so many early Wii concept videos suggested. So while creative developers will surely find fantastic uses of the tech, recreating reality 1:1 is likely not the answer for most games (I really don't want to have to actually walk in-place for miles to navigate a future Elder Scrolls game).
And, yet, there are parts of his vision that make me question how much of our future we want to spend essentially living in The Matrix. Do we really want to gather with friends on Friday night, throw on out VR headsets and watch a movie in a virtual theater? Do I want get "headset hair" every time I want to zone out and watch a TV show or play a game at the end of a long day at work?
The answer to some of this surely lies in how sleek future iterations of this technology become, as we will no doubt look back on this initial, chunky Oculus Rift with much the same nostalgic smirk that we might give an early "laptop" computer.
Still, there's something very active about VR compared to the extremely passive nature of old-fashioned TVs. You are an engaged participant with an "input device" (even if it's only looking around) in use at all times. For video games, which are more active by design, perhaps this won't be as big an issue. But for movies and TV shows that have trained us to be mentally, not physically, engaged, this would represent a significant paradigm shift. Not necessarily a bad one, but perhaps one that we won't to be committed to all the time.
And while Mr. Luckey postulates that we might spend more social time through the "lenses" of these headsets, it's hard to say if and when such interactions would really live up to the real experience of existing in the same space as another physical person. As exciting as the technology is, I doubt I'll be giving up that big screen any time soon.