VR & Oculus - What it means to fulfill its promiseI was listening to the a16z podcast on my commute this morning - Chris Dixon, Balaji Srinivasan & Gil Shafir were discussing Oculus Rift and VR in general.
They are all big believers in VR and believe that it will be a pervasive technology in (something like) 5 years or so - and will be another element of mobile computing. They made some interesting observations about how it might affect entertainment, movies (you could watch the movie from inside each scene, so could move around and explore them/the characters etc), holidaying/virtual tourism (get home from work and have a beer whilst sitting on a beach in Italy for half an hour) as well as the more boring/obvious usage of remote working (business deals/travel).
Anyway, a few of the points made and general concepts started me thinking:
Gaming would be to intense for a lot of the current games Chris Dixon argued that pretty much all the war/shooting/fighting games would be too intense to be played in VR, that driving games would likely be about the limit of intensity that people could cope with, and that VR will be so realistic/engaging that it would be too stressful to actually play some of the modern shooters available on current gaming platforms.
I have not used VR (other than the above, which is a different, probably superior, kind of VR). What is really interesting is that these guys who have had a chance to use Oculus believe that VR will, in the very near future, be so immersive, engaging & realistic that people won't be able to game in the casual way people do today (e.g. relax at home by killing hoards of people/zombies/nazis etc) because it won't be something that you can disconnect from, and actually being in a VR setting and having people shooting at you. Although there will inevitably be games that try FPS in VR, so maybe we will be seeing gamers with PTSD in 10 years?
The point I took away from this is that they believe VR is not something that will just take time for us to adjust to. That people won't adjust to VR and distinguish that it is virtual (obviously, they will know they are in VR, but sub-consciously the experiences of being shot at/attacked etc will stay with them as real, potentially traumatic, experiences). If this stands to be true then it will really add weight to concerns that violence in games leads to real world violence (which at the moment, most people consider to be rubbish).
It will be used for training/practice where normally it is prohibitive (too expensive, not possible). Training surgeons - learning surgery is not something where you really have test runs. Training military/police in high-stress/conflict situations - they say (as I could imagine) nothing prepares you for conflict - having to make a split-second decision whether to use a weapon in any situation is something I guess you can't really prepare for. This also suggests there is truth in the previous point - if VR really can prepare armed forces/law enforcement for coping with high stress situations (split second use of weapon decisions) then the brain would have to, on some level, identify VR experiences as real. Currently, playing shooting games, or using firing ranges can't help prepare for these kind of experiences, as the brain recognizes that these are not reality.
Basically, for the state of VR to be a game changer, it needs to be (subconsciously at least) in-distinguishable from reality. Which itself leads to a whole host of other ethical/moral/philosophical questions and challenges.
However, these are just my opinions on their opinions! Its still too early to know exactly how powerful this new medium might be, so we will have to see how and what develops.