Virtual Reality: Don’t Call It a Comeback
I first tried Virtual Reality in the early 90s at the Trocadero in London. Inevitably, the experience was clunky, blurry and somewhat underwhelming. A couple of decades later, I got to try a roller coaster simulation on an Oculus Rift device, which gave me the same physical, stomach-lurching sensation you get on a real roller coaster – I was impressed. This time around, VR actually worked!
So, when IMAX opened a VR Experience Center in LA, I went to check it out.
They have a few different experiences available (they don’t call them games), with ratings ranging from ‘suitable for beginners’ to ‘blood and gore’ and ‘intense violence’. At the request of my 5 year old, I tried the Star Wars experience (suitable for VR beginners). It was amazing. In addition to the HTC Vive headset, headphones and controller, I was given a Sub Pac wearable audio system, which vibrated at appropriate moments, like when the Millennium Falcon landed directly above me.
Cut off from the real world, it’s a truly immersive experience and for a few moments I was a Jedi, wielding my lightsaber to save the galaxy.
Feeling confident enough to go for something a little more intense I bought a ticket for ‘Raw Data’– ten minutes of ridiculous violence where you have to take down a swarm of very angry robots. It was an exhilarating, physical experience and as an immersive, absorbing gaming platform, VR makes total sense. But outside gaming, and given the amount of interest in VR from both the media and investment community, content creators are innovating around the technology in other areas.
VR music videos are still a thing and there is some excellent storytelling content coming through studios like Within and Jaunt. Companies such as Next VR and Melody VR are offering unique front-row-seat experiences in music and sport while the art world is getting into VR with creative applications like Tiltbrush and this extreme exhibition at the Whitney Museum.
Outside of entertainment, there are practical applications for VR such as product demonstrations, vehicle development and training simulations. VR is also being used in the medical profession for things like aversion therapy and mental health treatment. And of course, brands are using VR as a marketing tool.
VR does have its challenges though. Motion sickness is a real issue for some people and the impaired spatial awareness can cause VR related injuries. It’s not very sociable either because while there are multiplayer VR games, once you put on the goggles, it is mostly a solitary experience. Which is probably for the best – no one looks cool wearing them.