Opinion: Virtual unreality

Garry Law
By Garry Law | 18 June 2014

Facebook, with its purchase of virtual-reality hardware start-up Oculus VR for US$2 billion, is aiming to connect one billion people in a shared, virtual existence. To put this into perspective, this will require selling more Oculus Rift headsets than all of the gaming consoles sold globally since 1982.

If you fear a dystopian future where everyone stays jacked into a computer while the world rots around them, then this article is probably not for you!

For the rest of us who are excited about the future of virtual worlds, let’s entertain some thinking on some of the potential experiences we can expect.

A truly egalitarian world

The allure of virtual worlds has always been the idea of egalitarianism: that everyone starts in more or less the same way, and has equal opportunity to live their identity.

Whereas video games target a narrow demographic, Facebook is poised to put everyone into virtual reality. Assuming that the Oculus Rift hardware will continue to be improved, the idea of being able to share a VR space with your favourite celebrity is pretty enticing.

Some people say that we’re already there with Facebook and Twitter, but clearly they haven’t experienced Oculus Rift like this lady.

No reason to go anywhere

Being able to virtually meet up with everyone would have huge effects on cities.

For starters, we might see a decline in air pollution due to the reduction of cars on the road. Reduced traffic congestion will also lead to increased productivity citywide, not to mention the gained productivity of people directly conducting their business in virtual reality.

Perhaps some algorithm on Facebook can learn all your behaviours while you’re in this virtual world, even making copies of you to live in other peoples’ virtual worlds, so that you can figuratively be in several different places at once.

Space, redefined

This is where I get nerd chills. The virtual world created by Facebook and Oculus doesn’t need to conform to reality at all. The idea of space could be redefined, because in a virtual world, room layouts don’t have to make physical sense. We could all be floating in zero gravity, or navigate a maze that can only exist in VR.

In this new space, new opportunities will arise for communication, advertising and entertainment. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

Creating a brand persona will take on a new meaning, as you’re no longer limited to just text and a profile - think about brand voice, appearance and gender. If you can meet and shake hands with a VR representation of your brand, what would it look like?

But, what about the-horrible-future-where-everyone’s-jacked-into a-computer?

In order for this ‘nightmare future’ to happen, we’d probably need to assume a few things:

- That the virtual world is reproducing some functionality/practicality of the real world - so far, it has only really demonstrated some new game experiences, and maybe remote piloting a Parrot drone

- That the hardware provides a seamless, comfortable experience - as someone who has played with the first Oculus Rift, I think this is still a long way away

- That the world we create in the virtual space is better and more rewarding than the world we live in now, although this would speak more about our real world than the virtual one.

Garry Law
Tech lead
The White Agency

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