Hype about virtual reality is still building. It seems to be the “Little Future Idea That Could” – people want it to happen really, really, badly. But much of what we see is kind of gimmick-y at best. From my perspective, it seems that VR is suffering from the same problem that Second Life did: people are just trying to recreate the 2D web in 3D virtual spaces. Virtual Reality will require a new way of thinking about interaction and creation (among other concepts) to really become useful in any manner beyond a new way to play video games. The video above of ELEVR talks about their research in VR that really takes VR research into a more interesting realm. They are not looking at how to simulate the real world in VR, but how to create entire new experiences that give us new abilities of reason, communication, self expression, reflection, etc (to slightly paraphrase their words). Also note this statement: “these experiences are not reality, but they are real.” Too many projects focus on making VR more “reality,” while missing what makes them “real.” The whole video is very fascinating, especially when they get into using virtual reality to design spaces that make people think more complexly about how they categorize objects in real life. Along the same lines of re-thinking how we do VR – but serving as less complex way of realizing the ELEVR research – is the Google Blocks project which aims to re-imagine how we build 3D objects in a more intuitive way inside VR rather than on a 2D screen.
Those of you that are old enough to remember Laser Tag probably had an awesome childhood. Well, at least, if you got to play things like Laser Tag. Laser Tag is still around, of course, and there are other types of team competition sports like Nerf Gun Wars and Escape Rooms. The video above has been going around about an Augmented Reality group competition game in Japan. The video is intriguing, but the game itself is a bit hit and miss (of course, so were the commercials for Laser Tag). I would assume that, like Laser Tag, these Augmented Reality games need to be experienced to fully understand. But I like the idea – hope I get to try one some day myself. So here is hoping this becomes the next trend in group gaming. On the education side, it very possible to imagine someone creating educational games like this. Or creating online versions of these games for people to play with each other at a distance. I have been reading Daemon and Freedom™ by Daniel Squarez the past few months based on a recommendation from Amy Collier. Freedom™especially adds a a layer of augmented reality into Suarez’s dystopian future that points to the ways that this kind of tech could be useful in real life (well, when not being used by an evil program to destroy humanity, that is). I highly recommend reading those books. Augmented Reality is expensive right now, of course, but will we see something like this take augmented reality mainstream? We shall see.
After much speculation as to what their Virtual Reality plans would be, Facebook finally announced what most assumed would be the answer: Facebook Spaces. The basic idea is that you recreate yourself as a cartoon and then connect with people in VR to interact, share VR experiences, and take VR selfies of, well, your cartoon you. Spaces seems to only work with Occulus Rift + Touch, and there is even a kind of cool but creepy VR camera you can look forward to bringing your messy bedroom or kitchen table into VR. Wonder how long until we see this camera on tele-presence robots? Or floating in the air training Jedis how to fight with light… or not. On the other side of the VR world is the release of Tabel by Google, an immersive VR movie. It sounds cool, but since it is only for Cardboard right now, I only get errors on my iPhone. Will VR make movies immersive? Hard to say. I could see people really wanting to watch something like Star Wars in VR, but it would be expensive to make a movie like that immersive while also basically keeping the focus on main narrative. Maybe it will lead to a different types of less linear movies like Tabel? Who knows. Maybe people won’t really care that much for it. But both projects reveal a future vision of VR that takes some part of everyday life (movies, video chats, event planning, etc) and makes them more immersive, 3-dimensional, and realistic. Well, depending on your feelings about cartoons without legs.