Where's My Oasis?
The Search For the Ultimate Social VR Experience
Before Gunters were scouring the Oasis for clues in Ernest Cline’s fantasy gamer novel, Ready Player One, Captain Picard was playing a private investigator on the Enterprise’s Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
While I find myself cringing every time “holodeck” is used to describe virtual reality -- currently on my list of overused VR buzzwords -- it’s one of the places my passion for the technology originated from. The idea that you could be transported into a new environment and be able to interact with objects physically is the ultimate sci-fi fantasy. But for this to become a full-fledged reality, it’s going to take a little more time and a lot more work. From sophisticated forms of AI (artificial intelligence) to increased advances in machine learning, there are a number of stars that will need to align before the construction of the holodeck begins.
But what about Ready Player One’s Oasis?
The VR rigs depicted in the book and the film are similar to ones that have been circulating industry events and gaming arcades for years. Everything from head-mounted displays to omnidirectional treadmills gives the impression that the Oasis could be an attainable version of the ultimate VR experience. While the technology is an essential element to the creation of this much sought after world, the driving factor to its success will be a social one.
As a social species, we gravitate towards communities -- whether they are online or offline. Platforms like Facebook have created a social media organization around how people connect and have ingrained themselves into the daily lives of their users. The video game industry thrives on massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming with titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. But where will virtual reality land on this social plane?
If we rely on pop culture references to lead the discussion, we could be left with fearful masses who conjure up a dystopian vision of users plugging themselves into the matrix. Fear not my friends, Social VR is so much more than head-to-toe vinyl catsuits and long black coats that are in constant danger of getting caught in revolving doors.
Three years ago I made my first expedition into the realm of social virtual reality with the help of
AltspaceVR. Introduced at the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show, I was intrigued by the potential of digital meeting spaces and how people were using them to connect. The platform contains a variety of virtual spaces where users from around the world can meet, play games, watch videos, and attend live events all from the comfort of their own home. While I missed Drew Carey and Bill Nye when they hosted events on the digital stage, there were others that I had the pleasure of meeting. One avid Altspacer I spoke with had carved out more than just a place to play but a place where she could come alive. Suffering from a debilitating disease, she was unable to leave her home, and that left her feeling extremely isolated from the outside world. AltspaceVR was able to provide her with not only daily social interactions but the ability to play with her kids again. Doesn’t sound like the dystopian future you were expecting?
Designed to bring people together, AltspaceVR hosts a variety of events, but there was one that took the virtual cake. Last year I had the pleasure of attending the world’s first wedding hosted in VR. The happy couple from Wales opted for less than traditional nuptials (to say the least), but whether you think this was slightly gimmicky or not, it turned out to be quite practical. Breaking down the physical distance allowed anyone in the world to attend. The groom actually made a crack that a guest had finally made it to one of their weddings. Without a physical location to travel to, guests didn’t have to worry about the long lines at customs, airplane food, or having to wear pants. I’m not going to lie, if I had the option to attend some of the weddings I’m invited to via my HTC Vive, I totally would.
Although I did attend meetups and conferences in AltspaceVR, I preferred Rumii when it came to my professional needs. Referred to as ‘collaboration VR,’ Rumii focuses on business and education. I recently attended Merging Realities, a conference put on by Lethbridge College in Alberta and presented in VR by Rumii. The lecture hall setup allowed the avatars to “take their seats” in the audience while the presenter was located at the front with full control of the presentation screen. I was able to jump in and out of my headset for different talks and interact with the speakers and other attendees. Conferences can be time-consuming and extremely costly -- particularly when they are out of town. Therefore, Rumii is the ideal setup for when you want to continue working but also want to drop into a conference for a couple of hours to catch a talk or network with your peers.
Now when it comes to having fun with friends in VR, there are a number of games, experiences, and platforms to try. Much like AltspaceVR, the Rec Room virtual reality community (by Against Gravity) -- reminiscent of Wii Sports -- offers a virtual playground with a variety of activities to test out. What I love about Rec Room is that by gamifying tutorials/tasks it forces you to interact with other users. When I first started exploring different social VR platforms, I found initiating social interactions nerve wrecking-which is odd because offline I am a complete extrovert. However, not only do they make the transition into a full fledge Rec Room user easy but some of the games are downright addicting.
While the majority of VR experiences and platforms can be used without pants, I would strongly suggest grabbing a pair of khakis if you’re planning to test out The Void. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to give this a go at home. The Void is a whole-body, fully immersive location-based VR experience. Within the confines of a specially designed stage, The Void incorporates a
combination of hardware with motion tracking, haptic feedback, and special effects that allow users to explore and interact with the environment. It might not be the Holodeck, but it sure is getting close to the Oasis. When this immersive theme park was announced at the Wearable Sports & Entertainment Toronto (WEST) conference in 2014, I practically charged the stage out of excitement. If you’re interested in seeing what location-based VR is all about, I would recommend checking out this mindblowing experience with a couple of friends.
Although I am optimistic about the future of social VR, there is an assortment of issues that need to be addressed. High-end systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive don’t come cheap, and you will also have to invest in a gaming computer that will have enough juice to power the headset. If you’re not an earlyadopter or completely VR-obsessed, you probably won’t be dolling out the dollars for a high-performance system.
But there is still hope when it comes to quality VR exposure. With VR arcades on the rise, places like The Void and House of VR can showcase the capabilities of today’s tech. In addition to exposing people to the magic of immersion, they are helping to manage user’s expectations. The industry has come a long way, but we are far from acting out our sci-fi fantasies.
Well, the search will continue, and it’s going to take a while, but in the meantime, I will transport my avatar across the metaverse in search of the ultimate social VR experience. Maybe I will see you there?
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ Has Earned Over $500 Million Worldwide; It Is Now Available on Blu-ray
AltspaceVR allows you to hang out with real people in VR. For a list of their upcoming events check out https:// account.altvr.com/events/featured
This Co-op Quest is part of the Rec Room social video game that allows you to team up with your friends to defeat JumboTron and his army of robots with laser guns. How fun does that look?
The Void offers different VR experiences around the world, like this Ghostbusters Dimension game in Toronto.