What gaming loses, we all win

It was while ago that Facebook bought the Oculus Rift, and while it might no longer be trending, I still wanted to add in my two cents (I just had to wait until it was my turn on the blog).

I’m assuming that most people have heard about the Oculus Rift, but for those that haven’t a brief history would be that it’s a Virtual Reality (VR) headset that found great success on Kickstarter back in 2012. Setting a goal of $250,000, it obtained 100 times that and was one of Kickstarter’s biggest successes by hitting almost $2.5 million in funding. Providing a dual screen setup with an accelerometer, a gyrometer, and various other bits all condensed into a frame that you can wear on your head, the Oculus Rift caught the attention of the gaming community and their latent desire to provide immersive gameplay through a first person display.

As mentioned in my introductory paragraph, Facebook has now bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion. Not a bad increase in valuation for a few years of development.

While we all have our own views of Facebook, be they positive or negative, there was a backlash from the gaming community. For example the developer of the incredibly successful Minecraft, Markus Persson, cancelled porting the franchise over to the Oculus Rift when it was announced.

Others saw another case of “the Simpsons did it”, with Facebook using this technology to create a real life version of Yard Work Simulator.

While I self-identify as a gamer, and I think anyone who saw my recommended purchases on Amazon would agree with that label, I saw this news in a positive light. Mark Zuckerberg’s statement might be a bit “too long; didn’t read” for some people, but there is one part that clearly jumps out at me from both a UX and a service design perspective:

“This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.” Mark Zuckerberg

I remember the gaming community toying around with VR in the early nineties, and it even featured on an episode of Gamesmaster on Channel 4, but it never gained any traction and ended up a forgotten piece of technology, a bit like the Virtual boy or 2DS being released to play 3DS games. You might be picking up on the general trend that that VR was a bit of a fad in the past, and I worry that this fact is being brushed under the carpet.

It’s easy to say that VR didn’t work in the 90s because people didn’t have an easy access to the internet, and weren’t as technology literate as we are now. This is a period of time before Windows 95 existed, so even if you didn’t live through it you can imagine what it was like. I would actually hazard a guess and say that VR isn’t the future of gaming, and Zuckerberg is right since it can do so much more outside of this market.

 My top 3 possible uses for the Oculus Rift outside of gaming: 

1. Telecommuting

The common line these days is that people can work from anywhere, but this really holds true if your company mainstreams emails and an actual presence isn’t needed for meetings.

Companies like Anybots are trying to solve this by using telepresence devices that give people a ‘body’ to walk around the office when working from home. The addition of the Oculus Rift to this process would take it a step further and closing the perceptual distance between simply occupying the device and being the device. This path would bring us closer to the world imagined in the Bruce Willis film Surrogates where humans are able to accomplish great acts by occupying artificial bodies…and more importantly there isn’t any commuting time to work.

2. Creating and sharing stories

Given the right recording technology the Oculus could possibly let us plan and share moments and experiences. This is the most obviously referenced possibility from Mark Zuckerberg’s statement. Set off a recording and relive the birth of your first born, or your wedding day. Going a step further, the holodeck from Star Trek might not be too much further, as VR coupled with storytelling is the immersive experience filmmakers have been trying to achieve since the Lumiere brothers put a figurative man on the moon.

3. Helping with fine detailed tasks.

It’s generally accepted that videogames improve a surgeon’s skill. Playing video games increase spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination, and this effect is only increased as more surgeries become telescopic with the surgeons relying less on their hands and more on a camera and joystick setup.

Taking a key from a brief scene in Thor: The Dark World the Oculus Rift would free up surgeons from having to rely on a TV screen by projecting all the information needed right on the patient, hopefully speeding up reaction times and success. This same technique could be used to help with anything that requires a steady hand and a keen eye.

Naturally I am curious about how the Oculus Rift could enhance gaming, but I can’t help but marvel at the possibilities this technology affords us outside of that space. Facebook might not be the person we might instinctively trust, but it definitely should bring the Oculus Rift to the mainstream and help developers use it to its full potential.

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