I was recently invited to a private demo of the latest Crescent Bay prototype at the Oculus Headquarters in Irvine. Having spent many hours with the DK1 and DK2, I was very excited to try out the demo that made headlines at Oculus Connect. In a word the experience was amazing, but when my family asked me what I did in virtual reality I realized I had done "nothing". I stood around and was transported to a variety of impossible worlds and environments, but ultimately I did nothing.
Over the last few years I have found myself in many meetings, showing off the headsets, talking to executive producers, programmers, game directors, and family members about how virtual reality is coming to change the world. Some of those lucky individuals I met with got horribly sick, some were equally amazed, and others just said "Wow" and went about their lives. The question I am asked regularly is "What are people going to do in VR that they can't do now?" The answer is simple: "Nothing, only nothing is going to get a lot more fun."
As clever an answer as "nothing" is, it doesn't sell pitches or fund projects, especially when it's going to cost a lot of money to do nothing in high resolution at 90 frames per second while tangled up in cords. However, there is a lot more to nothing than meets the eye. Going to the beach, sitting on a park bench and watching the sunset is a very enjoyable experience where one does "nothing". It is not especially difficult (depending on where you live), it doesn't take a lot of coordination, and anyone can do it. The physical maneuvers required to do nothing at the beach are not much differenct from doing nothing in front of one's computer and looking at a picture of a sunset. Similar activities, similar imagery, very different experience.
I have used every VR input device available, from hand waving, to an Xbox controller, to a mouse and keyboard. I have stared, nodded and pecked at countless floating UI buttons with my head, and never felt like it was better than clicking a mouse on the screen. Surely my time with the latest and greatest VR demo the world has ever seen would give me some insight into the way forward in VR.
What I keep coming back to, especially after the Crescent Bay demo, is that nothing compares to being in a virtual reality environment because doing "nothing" is still doing a lot. One doesn't get the sensation of eye contact with an alien or feel the need to return its friendly wave when viewing that character on a TV or monitor. Being able to peer into an animated miniature paper city and see the little cars and people that look so real you can touch them cannot be duplicated in the "real world". To truly appreciate the magic of these moment they must be experienced first hand.
In the future, more VR centric inputs will be invented, opening up new ways to interact and fuse the real world with the virtual one. However, Im not sure it will solve the problem of "What can you do wth VR that is better than with traditional methods?" The secret to selling VR is in the experience. It is the emotional connection with the characters and creatures around you. It is interacting with them and seeing things from their perspectives. It is the sense of scale, both massive and minute. It is true magic and it is going to change people's perception of what reality is, even when, in reality, they are doing "nothing".