Real life, or just fantasy?
In what’s touted by some as the biggest change to our technology since the proliferation of the internet, virtual reality (VR) is the new hot investment option. But for those of us without millions to spend, what does a virtual reality future look like?
VR as we know it
When VR presents itself in popular culture and science fiction, it often brings subversive undertones. If you die in the game, you die in real life. People strapped into intricate devices, losing all sense of reality and control of their physical bodies.
It’s an allegory for apathy, for losing perspective on the world and for becoming obsessed with illusions.
In our world VR is a lot less sinister. Much like how video games don’t hypnotise you into losing awareness of reality and television didn’t ruin a generation, VR is unlikely to make you forget that you need to eat, drink and sleep.
What VR can give you is a sense of wonder and delight, through the immersive way you interact with the projected world around you. Even at its best, though, it’s not going to replace the offline world any more than movies, TV or smart phones did in previous years.
Applied virtual reality
While many of the applications for VR are currently experimental, testing the limits of the technology, there’s huge implications for many parts of life. Industrial design and architecture stand to benefit hugely. Designers will be able to walk around their creations and truly experience their work in a way you can’t when it’s projected onto a flat screen. Interior designers will be able to walk through their creations.
Art and tourism could change dramatically – how amazing would it be to be able to tour the Louvre without visiting Paris, without having to wait in line to see the Mona Lisa? Artists can now sculpt 3D shapes with their hands, or even paint in three dimensions.
Could we one day be living and working entirely remotely, meeting in virtual rooms to have discussions, participate in workshops and share presentations? It’s probably not as far off as we think.
Accessible virtual worlds
VR has incredible accessibility potential too. A headset is something that can be suited to almost anyone, and controls can be set up to track movement of eyes or hands. Once you get over looking like a huge dork, the experience is eerily immersive.
We need to make sure as we build this technology we need to prioritise the way VR will be made accessible to people with disabilities. If we don’t design with accessibility in mind, a device that has the potential to greatly improve lives could instead remain frustratingly inaccessible for many.
VR won’t replace the tangible real world we all live in, and it won’t ever be able to grant the exact experiences we can find in person. But there’s something exciting, delightful and a bit unknown waiting for us in the world inside the headset.
By Jem Yoshioka