It is time once again to check in on virtual reality (VR), the technological revolution that’s always just around the corner. If that revolution ever did come to pass—a future where people spend more time in the virtual world than the physical world—it would render us, people who build things for people to see in the physical world, obsolete (except maybe our designers… virtual worlds presumably need signs, too). As such, we like to keep an eye on the sector.
This week the Times profiled a VR superfan to illustrate the cycle of ups and downs that have plagued VR optimists for what seems like decades. We’re introduced to our superfan, the strikingly named but otherwise un-striking dude Wolf Heffelfinger, running around a gym in Montana wearing VR goggles, in the middle of an intense game of laser tag. VR has been all over the headlines recently, and he’s optimistic.
Facebook recently made one of its biggest product announcements in years, the virtual reality-based Horizons Workrooms. The product, “offers a virtual meeting room where people using Facebook’s headsets can gather as if they were at an in-person work meeting.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees this product as a key step to the company’s leadership in the so-called “metaverse,” a nebulous term describing the all-encompassing virtual digital space made possible by widely available virtual reality hardware.
This news excites the VR superfan in our story, and who wouldn’t be excited? Who wouldn’t be excited, after almost two years of limited in person interaction, to replace one emotionally exhausting form of virtual meeting (Zoom) with another even more immersive form? Who wouldn’t be excited to live in a virtual techno-utopia built to Facebook's liking? Who wouldn’t want to live in a universe designed by a company with sole intent to maximize the time users spend on it? That calibrates its algorithm to promote content that amplifies anger because its good for user engagement? That buries its own research on the mental health harm caused by Instagram, its subsidiary, to millions of teenage kids? That despite such research and evidence, views preteens as the next big target for platform growth?
Laser tag, played normally, is a simulation of a futuristic sci-fi battle pitted between friends in a specially designed dark room with obstacles and such. It’s quite fun, which is why it’s so odd that one would find the need to experience it in a virtual world when one could just… go play laser tag. This is VR’s biggest weakness: the real-world rules. It’s infinitely full of wonder and excitement and can be readily experienced without the use of restrictive goggles and controller. Towards the end of the profile, we see the nadir of every VR news cycle, “He turned one headset into a plant holder and another into a piece of neckwear he wore on walks through the Montana mountains. ‘It turns out that a walk outside is much more fun,’ he said.”
Those of us who build things for the real-world can breathe a sigh of relief.
Come out to Riverside for the Market on Margaret pop up on Sunday if you want to experience something fun. No VR goggles required!
Every store should, no... must have a doggo greeter.
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