The State of Virtual Reality

The promise of virtual reality has always been enormous. Put on the virtual reality goggles, go nowhere, and be transported anywhere. It’s the same escapism peddled by drugs, alcohol, sex, and art — throw off the shackles of the mundane through a metaphysical transportation to an altered state. Born of technology, virtual reality at its core is an organic experience. Yes, it’s man meets machine, but what happens is strictly within the mind. It had its crude beginnings. A definition of virtual reality has always been difficult to formulate — the concept of an alternative existence has been pawed at for centuries — but the closest modern ancestor came to life in the fifties, when a handful of visionaries saw the possibility for watching things on a screen that never ends, but the technology wasn’t yet good enough to justify the idea.

The promise of the idea was shrouded, concealed under clunky visuals. But the concept was worth pursuing, and others did (especially the military, who have used virtual reality technology for war simulation for years). The utopian ideals of a VR universe were revisited by a small crew of inventors in the late ’80s and early ’90s. At the time the personal computer was exploding, and VR acolytes found a curious population eager to see what the technology had to offer. Then, three years ago, Palmer Luckey, a kid born during the waning days of VR’s late-20th-century golden era, put the pieces together using improved technology. He raised some money and soon developed the Oculus Rift, his own version of a clunky headset. The graphics were still basic but the experience was, surprisingly, lifelike.

For the first time ever, one could casually wander through a comically realistic rendering of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. Or hack a zombie to death. It didn’t really matter what you did inside the goggles, really, just the act of immersion was awing. Someone at Facebook got the memo, and they purchased Oculus wholesale for $2 billion, signaling a promising, if unclear, future for virtual reality. Imagine 10 years ago trying to envision the way we use cellphones today. It’s impossible. That’s the promise VR has today. VR at its best shouldn’t replace real life, just modify it, giving us access to so much just out of reach physically, economically. If you can dream it, VR can make it. It’s a medium for progress, not the progress itself.

Kemo D. 7

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