Let's talk about the physical realities of virtually blasting your brain into another world: People are falling on their faces and butts.
The first time I saw the video below (which is GIFed above), I laughed and laughed and laughed. Haha! That poor schmuck! He was just innocently getting his senses rearranged in some mall in Russia(?), when his buddy came up behind him and gave him a push. The victim falls and squirms and can't find his balance because he has no idea what's going on around him. It's a good chucklegoof. Everyone has a healthy laugh.
But now watch this next video. I'm guessing this fellow woke up one day not knowing about Oculus Rift, and by whatever chain of events, ended up in a chair trying something new. This is the virtual reality equivalent of skiing down the bunny hill for the first time. Ouch:
Luckily our friend above appears to be ok after his face plant initiation. So does this dad below. He's a good sport about it. My dad's not this cool:
Virtual Reality is crazy! It's frequently described as mind-blowing by proponents and disorienting by those who maybe didn't have such a good time. Sure. Fine.
In my experience the really good stuff is a short, controlled version of the trip from the mind-altering drugs people try in college. Strap on some goggles, put on some headphones, and you're transported somewhere completely different. The room your body is in and the people around you disappear. Sometimes when I peel off the goggles I'm hit by a discomfiting wave of self-consciousness. What did I do while I was gone? What did I look like?
That's good! Or at least, that's what this stuff is supposed to do. It's supposed to be immersive. We're supposed to get lost. Thanks to Oculus Rift, we've never been closer to realizing the futuristic experiences we've been dreaming about for decades. We're doing stuff we only ever saw in movies. It feels like a movie.
But cool as it might be, it's weird to strap on a headset as if it were just a Halloween mask, only find yourself peering into a different world, instead of at the candy apple in your hand. Especially the first time you do it. Everybody's first time is different, but it's always discombobulated. It doesn't always end in disaster. It's just thrilling and uncomfortable, like merging onto the highway for the first time with your dad in the passenger seat.
If you're not in a certain techy sect, it's actually not that easy to get your head into the mask. Corporations exploit this by building virtual reality ads that people line up around the block to check out. Curious people will watch anything as long as it takes them to the next experience.
One publicist I spoke to recently is working on an Oculus Rift based marketing campaign. He told me that in his experience, about one in ten people who puts on a VR mask freaks out. It's too far away and not quite real enough. They can't deal. They want reality reality.
Eventually, we're going to learn that when strapping on perception altering goggles, we should just sit down. Higher resolution displays in headsets and better software for 3D rendering will make the experiences less nauseating. The spaces we wear other realities in will be perfectly tailored to brain travel. Fewer accidents will happen.
We'll get it right, but in the short term, someone could get hurt on the way to the uncanny valley.