VR, as we define it, is “The simulated presence of being in a real or imaginary world with which you can interact either passively or actively.”
Paisley: My first time in VR (besides paragliding as an eight year old at Vancouver’s Playdium in 1997), was when I tried Nonny de la Peña’s piece “Hunger in Los Angeles” in her lab at USC. At first when I put on the headset, I was weirdly shy, wary of the (real) people watching me walk around (am I even doing this right?!), but I quickly became more conscious of the people standing next to me on the LA street in the experience. I observed them in a food bank line up on a very sunny day. I got a little more daring, walking up close to the people in the line up (can I touch these people?! No). Suddenly, a man lining up for food collapses into a diabetic coma. This man is on the ground and you cannot help him. You feel totally useless. Walking the fine line between observer and participant made me question my role. As a creator you begin to see the infinite possibilities for impact.
Ashley: My first time trying virtual reality came after a months-long craigslist battle with other would-be VR developers to snag an Oculus DK2. We downloaded some of the weirdest demos we could find from Oculus’ free virtual reality marketplace. My first demo was “Impossible Breakfast Simulator”, which is a deceptively simple game asking the player to simultaneously play a Flappy Bird emulator on an in-game cell phone while eating a bowl of breakfast cereal at the same time. I was terrible at it, but kept playing. It was the ability to turn traditional game mechanics on its head and tell stories in new ways that encouraged me to start making my own VR experiences. Beyond that, I began to see how storytelling through film, games and experimental media could merge into something new through virtual reality. It’s amazing to see how much of VR can be influenced by such familiar mediums, yet never feel squarely like any of those things at the same time.
This year is set to be huge for Virtual Reality – Oculus has hit the consumer market, the New York Times launched a VR app reaching hundreds of thousands, and everyone and their grandma is racing to get their tech on your face. It’s a beautiful time of growth and discovery in the medium we love. Right now, everything is still being figured out, and yet it feels like salad days. Not everything is perfect just yet. But at the very least it is certainly a great moment to be paying attention.