The much-hyped consumer virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, is finally hitting the market. The reviews have been mixed. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “the first totally immersive home virtual reality rig is a pricey, awkward, isolating—and occasionally brilliant—glimpse of the future of computing.” In an NPR radio interview Kelley McEvers spoke to Palmer Lucky who invented the device while still in his teens and founded the company Oculus VR, which is now owned by Facebook. Lucky remarks “… virtual reality is potentially the final major computing platform. … With virtual reality – If you have perfect virtual reality eventually, where you’re be able to simulate everything that a human can experience or imagine experiencing, it’s hard to imagine where you go from there. Once you have perfect virtual reality, what else are you supposed to perfect?”
My issue with that last statement is the notion that one will ever be able to “simulate everything,” as well as the whole underpinning metaphysics of perfectionism he’s implying. It’s smacks of all those who think reality can be reduced to some analytical description if only we can find the correct language, etc. Reality is more about what is unknown and unknowable, broken and in ruins than it is about the capturing the known in a black box; even a shiny holodeck like Oculus Rift seeks to program into our perceptive fields. As Franco Berardi recently suggested:
Skin stays between us and the world and acts as sensitive processor of the worldly experience. It is continuously re-generated, emerging at the surface, aging, decaying and finally disappearing, melting into air, forgotten. But the sensitive data it has recorded do not die, do not disappear: they are “stored” in the brain, transformed into memories, and turned into sensitive expectations. Skin is feeding the brain with perceptions of the world, but conversely brain is supplying the skin with sensitivity, aesthetic inclinations, and tendencies: desire. Desire is not the need of something, but the sensible creation of the world as aesthetically meaningful environment.1
What we all seek from such intelligent environments is to get rid of the interface, to enter those worlds of imagination for ourselves, to organize these realms in aesthetically sensible ways for learning, loving, sensual living. Oculus Rift may provide a scripted environment that’s programmed to appear real, but it is still and enclosed and passive system that one can only experience much like an MMO type system. One knows one is playing through an avatar, a modeled reality rather than truly being immersed in a realm of imagination. Of course we may be expecting way too much for the current state of technology. Probably so…
“There’s so much hype and money being thrown into this thing,” said Yoshio Osaki, president at market researcher IDG. He believes VR will take two to four years to develop, but warned there’s 30 percent chance it will fail.
Zuckerberg of Facebook who owns Oculus Rift has signaled he’s willing to wait it out, knows it will take few more years to fledge out the full power of the system. “This is going to grow slowly,” he warned in September. “If you think about the arrival of computers or smartphones, the first units shipped did not ship tens of millions in their first year. But they proved an idea and made it real.”
Upload VR gives a good overview of the Oculus Rift system and content (games), saying,
The Rift is a masterpiece of industrial and technical design, a product that fits the mass consumer market it seeks. It’s sexy, it’s easy to use, and it works incredibly well. For everything you get, the price feels like a bit of a bargain, but the cost of upgrading one’s computer may cause many customers to wait a bit before taking the plunge.
All in all, however, the Oculus Rift is one of the best new product launches since the iPhone – and it has the chance to be just as impactful. As McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.” Virtual reality is the most personal medium we have ever encountered. It gives us the chance to experience empathy in a literal sense, to see from the perspective of others.
Ian Bogost tell us in his short history of VR, Dystopian Virtual Reality Is Finally Here, a little disappointed but still hanging in there: “We shouldn’t even call it “virtual reality.” It’s no overwhelming sensory immersion experience that fully and completely transports you to another world. It’s something far more obvious, and far more mundane, and perhaps even far more terrifying: VR is just television for the computer junkie.”
Like anything else I think I’ll wait a few years till the mass marketing hype runs the course and there are more games and content. Maybe by then it will also improve the 3D immersive look and feel. But that’s up to you… if you’re a tech-geek it might be the ticket you’ve been waiting for.
- Franco “Bifo” Berardi. And: Phenomenology of the End (Semiotext(e) / Foreign Agents). Semiotext(e) (November 6, 2015)