The Best Thing About Virtual Reality Is Showing Other People

Two weeks ago, my consumer model of the Oculus Rift arrived. I am enjoying myself.

I am enjoying the games and the experiences. The flaws of the technology are there and I'm aware of them.

I've also become starkly aware that it will most likely not be replacing my time spent with regular video games any time soon. Most likely it will supplement those experiences, in the same way that tablets haven't replaced laptops, virtual reality won't be replacing actual reality any time soon. I don't think it's going to replace anything really. For now it feels like a curiousity, a diversion. Something to experiment with.

So far I have not had an Oculus Rift experience that I feel could sustain me for longer than 30 minutes. I get in, I get out. It's strange, but I feel like developers understand it. Every single experience I've had so far seems to work within that time frame. I can't tell if the chicken or the egg came first.

I'm enjoying virtual reality. Immensely. But it hasn't stopped me playing Dark Souls 3 or Uncharted 4. Not even close. In fact, my favourite thing about Virtual Reality so far has been introducing it to other people. Like my wife for example...

Apologies for the vertical video! Blame my brother-in-law!

Watching people experience VR for the first time is truly incredible. Especially when it comes to people — like my wife — who don't normally engage with technology on a regular basis.

There are so many common factors. At first, most people are a little reluctant. A level of coaxing is required. Then, the reaction. It's instant. Compelling.

Mostly people are amazed, often they are terrified. They are hardly ever underwhelmed. The reaction is almost always visceral.

Probably my favourite reaction so far...

And it's interesting to watch, almost certainly more interesting than VR itself.

Because like most technology of its ilk, the shock of VR dissipates within minutes. After 20 minutes or so you become so accustomed to the experience that you take it for granted. It's similar to any technological leap — no-one is watching Blu-rays now and marvelling at the crisp resolution, they're watching the movie on its own terms.

Same goes for VR, and it's a shame because that first experience is so powerful, but you'll never get it back. The closest you can get to that same experience is watching other people and living vicariously through their first experience.

It's only a little bit creepy. The worst thing: running out of people to show. The weekend just past was a golden era, we had family over from different parts of Australia, people we hadn't seen in a while. The relief was palpable — we had run out of people to show.

The rest of us, who were already normalised to the VR experience, were like ravenous wolves. We need to show Richard the Oculus Rift. "RICHARD, YOU NEED TO TRY THIS".

Try it.


One poor member of our family, who will remain nameless, she didn't react quite viscerally enough. Didn't show enough amazement, didn't reflect enough joy. The disappointment was palpable. The atmosphere was tangibly deflated.

"Why didn't you like it? What the hell is wrong with you?"

I remember feeling a bit angry, like someone had denied me something — the simple pleasure of basking in another person's VR virginity had been taken from me.

But there's an endgame here, and it's rapidly approaching: the moment when everyone in my friend group — and everyone in my extended family — has tried virtual reality. That time is coming. It will one day be an actual reality.

I'm dreading it.


    I remember feeling a bit angry, like someone had denied me something — the simple pleasure of basking in another person’s VR virginity had been taken from me.

    Mark Serrels, vicarious experience junkie. I can picture this ending up with you being arrested for approaching strangers on the street in a huge trenchcoat concealing Oculus Rift headsets saying "Hey buddy, want a hit? Come on, you know the first time is always the best."

      This addiction explains Mark's exploration of the ethics of trying it out on his son.
      I think ultimately he decided against it. Not really sure why, though. Uncertainty about developmental impact?

      (Personally I'm of the opposite frame of mind. I think exposing kids to VR early in their development ill allow them to adapt to it with an ease that will set them above their competitors in that space. I can't imagine what kind of negative affects would result... especially if the time is limited so that they don't 'live' in VR. But that's an easy stance to take when I'm not risking my own kid.)

        If you don't enrol your firstborn in cybernetic trials at the age of 5, you're a failure of a parent.

        I think a lot of it stems from what I *think* was one particularly tiny study or something like that which everyone refers to when it comes to stereoscopic viewing, which suggests that young children could possibly have their vision development by excessive use of these things. Which is why the 3DS comes with the warning against the 3D being used for kids under 7, and even the Virtual Boy sported the same warnings. Even though there's nothing concrete, I think a lot of people accept it as more of a kind of legal backside-covering or "we don't really know so better safe than sorry".

        Although with the IPD limits on these things and the head sizes they're made for it would be pretty difficult for young children to use them properly anyway.

          I've never trusted that thing about stereoscopic viewing, but mostly due to my own personal experience.

          I had glasses for a while, as a kid. Astigmatism in one eye, and a resultant muscle control issue, where my focus was all over the shop. The optometrist and ophthalmologists reckoned that it meant I shouldn't be able to see those 'magic eye' stereoscopic images, but the exact opposite was true - I've always been able to control the eyes to focus wherever I like, seeing those images nearly instantly, once I figure out where to shift focus. The only reason I was getting weird results was because I didn't have any particular 'resting focus spot' like most folks. The testing was faulty.

          Basically, the experts didn't know what they were talking about, or why, in my case.
          Obviously that doesn't discount their experience with these issues in general, but when it comes to tiny studies proving something counter-intuitive about eye focus, strain, etc, I probably have more skepticism than most.

          ...I just realized that my asymmetrical focus may actually make VR difficult for me.

          God dammit. c.c

            Just stick the headset on wonky, problem solved!

            The lens inside can be adjusted to fit your vision, I wonder if each one can be adjusted separately though? @markserrels you have a Rift, any idea?

              I'm assuming I'll just have to semi-consciously move my eyeballs around until they settle on a comfortable focus, the way I do all day every day anyway. :)

    Can concur. I need to find more people to show.

    Especially before someone else gets to them first.

    its a peripheral tool really... like a joystick or a wheel.

    my 2d screen is getting the most use still.... may use the HMD about 5-10 h a month... the content is not there yet and the resolution

    showing peoples a blast tho

    Im waiting on new headsets... already a couple new ones have been announced

    I'd be happy enough to offer up my vr virginity, Mark. My only experience was with the first oculus and it lasted about a minute before the vom voms started coming.

      I hear the next generation of headsets have integrated barf bags, so that particular problem will be a thing of the past.

    So, you're saying that VR is basically a Nintendo Wii.

      It's similar in that it is purely experiential - you can't sufficiently describe it, it must be experienced to get it.

      And until the Rift gets motion controllers and room scale, it's not even half of what a VR experience could be.

        Man i was trying to drop a sick-burn and you had to come in with all this information and logic. Damn it.

    I've become such a good VR coach, getting people through vive demos. The reaction is always the same, they seem to tolerate my going on about the tech beforehand and how they have to try it, to them trying it and saying, "WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY IT WAS THIS GOOD?"

    It almost makes people evangelical for the tech, they try it and then have this excitement about it that they then go and try to tell their friends about.

    Do you not have a Vive Mark? I'd be so disappointed with a Rift, opening up my VR box to find an xbox controller. Imagine how much more blown away people are when you hand them a bow and arrow, or show them Waltz of the Wizard and have them throwing fireballs with their hands.

    It's kind of irking me that people keep treating VR like it's a new console or handheld (especially the makers) when it isn't. Virtual Reality headsets are an equivalent device to your monitor and keyboard, but what they do well is give you an unlimited space in which to create and interact with objects. Once developers start providing the ability to utilise that space to achieve the things that would be impractical or too expensive to do in meat space then VR will have found its place in the mainstream. For now it's still just a very expensive toy.

    More on topic, someone brought their Vive into work a while back and almost all of the reactions were that enthusiastic wonder and awe everyone keeps talking about. When I tried it on though I was impressed but I was also that one guy who just sort of shrugged and went "It's exactly what I thought it would be." Don't get me wrong, I am keen to get my own headset but my intentions are more from a practical perspective than one of hype.

      You're right, it's not a new console or handheld, it's a new medium. Just like TV didn't replace films, VR won't replace 2D gaming, but to say it's just like a new monitor is ridiculous.

      I own a Vive and have played several AAA games on it, and can tell you they are experiences that are impossible on any other platform. Imagine looking down at your body and seeing your inventory, pulling a sword from the side of your hip, and shield from your back (already exists in Vanishing Realms). It feels amazing, and even better than the VR promised to my generation in the 90's.

      Once it kicks off in the mainstream, VR will have the same impact as TV.

        I'm not saying it's exactly like a monitor, I'm saying that VR is a visual output and control input device, not the computer running the software that produces the image being displayed. The thing I really want VR for is to replace my monitor and TV, not be in addition to them. In VR I can have one really big screen, or I can have as many screens as I want and that's what I was saying is the most exciting thing about it.

        As you said, I can simulate experiences so I can see what my dream home would be like, or I can read a paper or book without actually having the book or newspaper exist. I can order stuff online knowing what it looks like without having to judge from a 2D picture because it was just shown to me virtually. When VR developers realise it's for more than just games, it is going to be more than the impact of TV, it's going to be discovering Australia (or other continents) all over again.

      The thing that's staying my hand on VR is 1) the price, 2) the requirements, 3) the games catalogue.

      The last one is probably the most important one. Right now, we seem to be at the stage where the titles coming out seem to be tailor-made for VR, and play to its quirks and gimmicks almost exclusively, with little else to recommend them. They aren't good games without VR.

      What I want to play are games that are good without VR, but better with it.

      We saw this happen with 3D in movies. The first 3D movies wasted too much of their time coming up with ways to throw shit at the screen to remind you, "HEY YOU ARE WATCHING A 3D MOVIE!!!" instead of just using it to subtly enhance a movie that would've been great in 2D.
      This is where VR seems to be at right now, and I'm going to wait til its gets over that and starts getting down to business.

      Last edited 01/06/16 1:46 pm

        What I want to play are games that are good without VR, but better with it.Elite, yo :P

          Yeah, at the moment I think it's basically Elite and EVE: Valkyrie that seem to be making the most of it. I heard there was a mech game that was pretty decent too, but it wasn't as fleshed-out.

          What I REALLY wanna see is VR as a 3rd-person camera for traditional games like Witcher or Uncharted, etc.

            Oh yeah, Vox Machinae is supposed to be shaping up pretty well. Dunno when that's due.

            Actually, for the 3rd person thing - people speak very highly of Chronos. Described as Dark Souls crossed with original Legend of Zelda. There's also Edge of Nowhere about to come out in the next week or two which should be another pretty high profile one.

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