I can vividly remember my first VR experience. It was 25 years ago!
It was the early 1990s. I was a teenager addicted to video games. When I wanted more sensation than my Game Boy could provide, there was only one option: the arcade hall. My favorite happy place took my pocket money piece by piece.
I didn’t have a lot of pocket money, so I selected my game economically. The longer I played the same game, the better I got, and the more value I received out of a coin. Of course I noticed the big, attractive double-coin machines like OutRun and After Burner. They looked amazing, but too expensive.
Until… suddenly, out of nowhere, they had this new machine installed. A huge installation. It was guarded 24×7 by an operator and the cost was a whopping five guilders to play. It was an actual virtual reality experience, a kind of shooter where you could walk through some kind of platform. It looked like this video. I was hooked! This was the future of gaming. Little did I know I had to wait 25 years for my next VR experience.
Twenty-five years later
In 2016, the first real commercial VR systems (Oculus, HTC Vive) hit the market with a mainstream strategy. Early adopters have to pay top dollar to satisfy their need for innovations, but really can’t help themselves. I simply needed to get my hands on the first Oculus Rift. The Rift alone is a fairly reasonable investment for $599, but the PC needed to run it smoothly starts around $1,750. I’m a Mac user, so I had to buy a dedicated PC to get started. I’m still waiting for my $150 discount from Oculus Rift, but let’s say its service levels are just as young as its product.
The good news is that more systems and accessories are coming soon and prices will go down quickly. PlayStation is next and will release a VR set that is expected at $399. That will be a big step towards global acceptance of VR.
By the way, if you’d like to try it out for less, you can look into Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard or similar devices. Albert Heijn, a huge Dutch retailer, recently introduced augmented reality and VR to every kid in the Netherlands, an impressive operation that smoothly introduces VR to a large population.
So, what have I learned?
So now I finally have my own VR setup at home. I’ve spent many hours in VR. I visited the Himalaya. I went to Pluto. I’ve had front row seats (and better) to concerts, and I’ve been inside games like never before. But I’ve learned more:
- VR is a quantum leap forward in entertainment. Already, the first-time showing of VR to friends and family is worth the investment. Every single first-timer has the same reaction: complete amazement by the immensity of today’s possibilities, which leads to interesting discussions about the impact of VR on our world and perspectives.
- VR is enlarging generation gaps. Let me explain it this way:
- My 65-year-old dad is actually pretty up to speed with technology, but he barely moved around in VR. His brain witnessed VR, but didn’t embrace VR as a reality, rather as an anachronism observed as an immersive 3D movie. He’s never requested to go in VR again.
- My 12-year-old niece immediately made the virtual world her own. She moved around as if she lived there. She didn’t want to stop and has a VR set at the top of her wish list now.
- My 4-year-old son simply accepted alternative realities as normal and wanted to switch between them like a TV with 58 channels. The idea that his generation will be able to switch realities, like Generation Z is switching apps, is mind boggling.
Some people are frustrated when their kids use smartphones at the dinner table. With a smartphone they are at least at the dinner table. VR will put them somewhere else. The generations’ vivid and colorful differing of perspectives about technology’s impact on reality is fascinating.
- The disconnect from your social environment is huge. This is the biggest barrier for mainstream use of VR. If I spent an evening in VR, my family would see my body standing in the room, but I’m not present. I’m like a zombie who doesn’t want to dispel the magic. This disconnect from your social environment is intriguing, because paradoxically, the very absence of it makes clear how important social connections actually are.
- VR will be its own solution for this gap in social connectivity. But it takes time. There are already different social platforms where you can connect with other VR users. The quality of those is disappointing. Especially when you realize that Oculus Rift is owned by Facebook. They know a thing or two about social communities. But… it’s not too difficult to imagine how it will look in the near future when more senses get involved. Touch may be the next step. Or will it be smell?
- The philosophical perspective is awesome. VR is the closest thing you can get to the Matrix. It makes your current/existing reality relative when you are able to easily switch between realities. As Morpheus would say, it’s an unlimited supply of blue pills.
- The last eye-opener is the power of your eyes as a mouse/pointer. In VR you don’t use a mouse, you simply look at something and click on your controller. It’s amazing to see how intuitively you can navigate with your eyes. It’s an eye opener. Literally.
VR transfers everything into an upgraded 2.0 version. Whether it is learning, programming, dating, sex, movies, games, or other entertainment, the potential is limitless. It will be exceptionally interesting for companies to create services and products and for consumers to enjoy life in different ways.
I can only recommend for you to investigate and play with VR as soon as you can. It is mind blowing, eye opening, and it will rock your senses.
It’s one of these things that you can talk about as much as you like, but you can’t truly explain the experience with words. Like love, like being a parent. You can only experience it for yourself. And once you do, you’ll be generating a new paradigm. One that drives innovation. One that is just getting started.
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