Sometimes when you’re in virtual reality (VR) for long stretches of time the extraordinary can become ordinary. You can grow accustomed to it. However even in those circumstances there are times where VR can surprise you in what it can do and how it can be used. More often than not, these instances aren’t the out of this world surprises but things you’d normally not even think about. Such as what occured to Blair Renaud, CEO of IRIS VR and co-founder/designer of both Quantum Capture and Occupied VR.
He takes up the story below:
I’m going to be honest. It takes a lot to impress me these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love VR, but I’m way past the honeymoon phase at this point. Spending so much of the last two plus years in virtual spaces has gotten me used to the idea. It’s like stepping from one room into another most of the time. My brain has become so accustomed to virtual worlds, that it’s really hard to not just be looking for graphical glitches and other cues that need to be fixed. I feel brief moments of awe from scale and surprises, (ejecting from a launch tube into a vast space scene in experiences like iOmoon and EVE Valkyrie still get me), but the moment is always fleeting.
The things that really make me (and I think many others) feel present in the virtual world are what we would consider mundane and routine in the real world.
The first time it happened to me was on the Oculus DK1. I had created my first virtual environment in Unity (with my free 3 month trial). It was a demo I released later simply titled The Room (having never heard of the terrible movie by the same name). It was a small environment that I threw together from random free models. The walls were from an old church. There was a sci-fi reactor in the corner that hummed with power. Trinkets and bobbles littered the surfaces and there was a large flat screen T.V. in front of the stained glass window that I had put a video of the trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 on. I put some now (but not then) ever present dust motes floating through the empty space.
When I put the HMD on, I was underwhelmed. I walked around and looked at the art. There they were, 3D models… in 3D. Awkward first person controls, no positional tacking, just DK1 VR.
Then I walked over to the TV and turned it on.
Now, to be fair, this is one of the most beautiful game trailers ever created, but this was the moment I fell in love with VR. Seeing the dust motes float past in my peripheries, hearing a distant hum to my right,
watching beautiful artwork on a T.V. I had completely forgotten that I was wearing an HMD. I was here, in this church I built, watching TV. This is something my brain bought, hook, line and sinker. I was so used to doing this in the real world. Passively consuming some media.. Just being there. Such a routine activity… such a strong sense of presence.
This still works for me to this day. It doesn’t need to be TV with engaging content on it (though that still works like a charm). It just needs to be something I would actually do in the given place.
I get frustrated watching people play Technolust on YouTube sometimes (yes I watch them all). People jump in and run around from one goal to the next like they would in any other game. They forget to forget. Sometimes I wish they would just sit down on the curb and watch the rain drops dance in the reflections on the asphalt. Or stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the world’s characters and listen to their story. Leaning back and looking up at the sky… just thinking…
I guess that kind of thing doesn’t make for great Let’s Play videos… but I think it’s definitely what makes good VR.
This is a virtual world that you’re in. Game mechanics be damned (sometimes). If you had a holodeck and could do anything and go anywhere, would you walk into this new world and start franticly looking for a key to the next area? Or would allow your mind to take it all in? That I think is the key to presence. That is what I enjoy about VR.