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How to make Virtual Reality Social

Unlike many people, I have a virtual-reality headset.  I can almost hear the digital tumbleweeds. That’s a funny thing about this particular technology.  It may be great for socializing although it looks as if it must feel isolating to strap on a headset which shuts out the world about you.  He pointed to the potential for social interactions as a reason, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent $ 3 billion to get back the VR headset manufacturer Oculus in 2014.  And he’s right.  Reality can offer you an idea of being with others a FaceTime call in an iPhone will never match.  Virtual reality experiences could allow it to be more emotionally fulfilling to get in touch with family and far-flung friends, or lend a feeling of physical presence.

But oddly enough, the social media has not made social applications a focus for the Oculus Rift headset, which established in 2016.  Primarily it meant for watching films and playing games.  In April, Facebook released an program for Oculus Rift known as Gravity to allow you to get with your Facebook friends.   You can have a digital selfie with your friends, create a avatar that is customized according to your Facebook pictures, and watch 360 ° videos or create doodles using a giant mark.  You can interact with the friends you have on the social media, so unless your friends happen to have virtual-reality headsets you really can’t do much in Spaces but hang out everything on your own.  And if you decide to match with a friend in Spaces, it gets old you’re forced to stand the entire time.

Recently I discovered a digital social place that is actually enjoyable.  It’s a free program for Rift and the Vive of HTC, a different headset, called Rec Room.  Its virtual world is laid out like a cartoon version of a high school gym where you could play games like dodgeball and paintball, which you control physical movements in actual life.  There is also a large communal lobby called the dining space (for hanging out, not for changing in and out of virtual clothes–you can do this in a personal Rec Room dorm room).  In the locker room you can meet up with strangers or friends, shoot hoops, or play with Ping-Pong.

Virtual Reality Social

Rec Room has a lot of flaws, but it nonetheless shows the ability of today’s genuinely immersive virtual-reality technology to promote connections between people in ways that past efforts at virtual interacting–remember Second Life? –might never muster.  The interactions with others are largely intuitive; you shake their fingers, which creates buzzing opinions from the handheld controller to become friends for instance.  I’ve had a blast spending some time in Rec Room together with my another buddy who uses VR, who across the country lives in real life.  And it’s also the virtual environment I’ve discovered that prompts you to get in touch with people you don’t understand in ways that are awkward you want to rip off your own headset.

Although market researcher IDC considers 10 million virtual-reality headsets shipped last year, that amount is tiny compared with, say, the smartphone market, where 1.5 billion handsets were sent in 2016.  And I think that the technology will struggle to snag users–and to come down in price unless it grows more social.  It’s not that reality is not fun on your own.  It is delightful by pulling on a headset over your eyes and headphones over your 19, to receive transported.  But no matter how digital reality that is entrancing is, it a lonely escape in case nobody is around to enjoy it with.  VR might become the first authentic social network, if experiences like Rec Room grab.

It might take several years for headset costs to drop and to get a variety of programs to figure out the connections we wish to have with each other in virtual spaces, which makes VR so powerful that, like the TV, PC, and also smartphone, it now becomes something the average person wishes to use.  Rec Room is not going to be that killer app for many men and women.  But because it’s thoughtful about how to promote connections and focused on actions that are certain, it is a model for what is possible.  I hope it might stick around till there are many more people to play.



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