VR vs. All Together

Is it really GDC once again? Apparently so, because everybody is off for the week. Living it up in San Francisco having breakfasts filled with sausage and fried eggs and pancakes and having dinners out. Meanwhile #TeamLeftBehind is, as usual, still in the UK.

In my case, I’m trying to get my fingers warm enough to work (there’s been quite the cold snap here, and outside is all ice and snow) and left to sit through the entire Google Developer Day livestream. Funsies. As a knock-on effect of GDC, I’d like to apologise for anyone in my local area who wanted to have some sushi at some point this week. Because they’re going to be disappointed. I cleaned the supermarket out yesterday morning as I prepped for the usual task of grabbing a break any time the mere glimmer of one presents itself and actually having some sustenance I can grab in a hurry. I did get some funny looks as I presented my basket full of half a shelf of fish and rice selections.

As for Rebecca, she is sitting this GDC out. I’m pleased to say that she has, several hours ago at the time of writing, finally and successfully undergone her surgery and we’ll be getting her back in a couple of weeks if not sooner. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to not be constantly feeling sick and nauseous and get her life back to normal.

With GDC going on and obviously being down a writer, my time is rather pressed. Thankfully our weekend correspondent Nikholai – who I’ve yet to mention I believe – is doing some additional time this week. So, with all that today’s VR vs. is somewhat of a quick one. A pity as there’s a bunch of stuff about videogames and TV and film I really want to write, but I need time for that, and it’s not going to be readily coming for a while. Oh well.

So, instead I wanted to talk briefly about something we do. Actually, in terms of responses its the most unpopular thing we do. Yes, even more unpopular than this column where people get annoyed with me for daring to write in my voice. (I know, a writer writing an opinion piece as themselves. How ridiculous!) Anyway, do you know what it is?

It’s the VR Diversity Initiative.

Honestly, the number of negative messages we’ve got about it has been quite eye-opening, and the fact I’ve lost count of them is depressing. Who’d’ve thought helping people who don’t readily have the opportunity to learn something would annoy some people so much? Actually, we all did. Not from the attendees or the instructors of course, we’ve had nothing but positive stories from them. From the internet though? Yeah, we all kind of expected it.

If you don’t know what the VR Diversity Initiative (VRDI) is, I was asked about it on Twitter the other day. Explain, I was asked, what we mean by diversity in the first place. “And why is it important?” Asked the user. “It doesn’t make sense to only want diversity for diversity’s sake. There has to be a reason to include all ‘types’ of people so as to exclude one particular type.”

As I explained to him, it’s not about exclusion but greater inclusion. Everybody should have the chance to try, get involved in and/or create. Knowledge is not the privilege of the few. We’ve moved on from the days of institutions preventing people from learning to read so as to maintain their power over them. Unfortunately, despite a goal of being the opposite of such things the tech industry has had issues in regard to equality, accessibility, respect – and to the one guy (and it’s always a guy) who is busy prepping his “But…” strawman in the comments section even now…. no. The technology industry has. Always. It’s well documented. Go look it up. I’ll happily wait here while you do.

Are you back yet? Well, I’m going to assume you are. Soooo, VRDI is our effort to help make sure that the errors of the past, the lack of equality of the past,  isn’t repeated with immersive technology. To help show VR’s door is open to all.

Scales / Inequality

Diversity and inclusion are not about preventing people from doing things, but giving people the opportunities to do things no matter their background: be it race, gender, sexuality, or their religion. There’s a lot of people out there who have been put off going into tech. ‘It’s not for them’ they’ve been told, or alternatively convinced its ‘not for them‘ which seems to be a very common underlying thread. A cold malice. A sneer.

To give you an example the same user responded to an article about a VR/AR hackathon across Africa which preceded a recent VRDI piece with “I’m seeing a pattern here.”

Yes mate, VRDI is for people of every race and Africa has indeed got not-necessarily-white people in it. Well done. You unravelled our tapestry of misdirection and rumbled our international globalist conspiracy.  Two stories in a row about people from different colours and creeds? What a disgrace! What an outrage! It’s the thin end of the wedge, I tell you. Call the Daily Mail at once!

The user thanked me for my (far more serious) response explaining what we meant by ‘diversity’. “I agree,” they said, “that the tech industry has issues with diversity, the H1B visas have put US born workers out of jobs for years, as well as lowering pay scales for US tech workers.”

Ah. Suddenly, it all becomes so much clearer. Well, I’m sorry to inform those angry people but they’re wrong. VR is not just for you or your ‘group’ it’s for everyone, and if you’ve not had the opportunity and you want to learn, or if you’ve had a bad experience – and it happens – VRDI is there and I hope will be there for some time to come.

At the same time I wish it didn’t need to be.

In any case, I don’t think those people have much to worry about. Unless the idea of a London-based event by a UK-based website, helping people who want to learn things actually learn things is the sort of thing that keeps you up at night. When we say diversity in the VRDI it’s not some kind of scheme to ‘pick on white men’ it’s about righting some existing wrongs and giving everyone the same chance.

And if those people think it’s “unfair” that others are being given opportunities – yeah, I think I know a group of people who know exactly how you feel…