[This piece from Recode is an excellent, brief summary of the challenges, rewards and current status of the evolution of virtual reality, and particularly the central role of presence, short for telepresence and otherwise, in the success of the medium. –Matthew]
[Image: Experiencing Samsung Gear VR at the Samsung Creator’s Lounge At VidCon 2016. Jonathan Leibson / Getty]
Why virtual reality matters
As a new medium, VR is in a peculiar predicament: Hailed as a multibillion-dollar industry, it’s also still in its creative infancy.
by Jason Brush Jun 28, 2016
Once upon a time, every medium in our incomprehensibly vast modern media landscape — photography, recorded music and radio, cinema, TV, video games, the Wii — was once just somebody’s impossible dream, a laughable absurdity. Movies, at their inception, were hand-cranked carnival attractions, TV an expensive, blurry, furniture-sized indulgence.
Every medium that permeates our lives was once attacked as being, at best, impracticable or, at worst, immoral. Each succeeded solely because of dedicated advocates and acolytes who fought to prove the merit of what others said was folly. They saw past technical challenges, low fidelity and — perhaps most crucially — beyond the status quo’s preconceptions of what was possible in order to investigate the potential of something unproven.
As a new medium, virtual reality is in a peculiar predicament: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Sony and others are making significant, high-profile investments in VR, with VR on center stage at their industry events and featured prominently in their company roadmaps; it’s regularly hailed as a new multibillion-dollar industry.
But at the same time, VR is in its creative infancy. There’s some remarkable content — just look at the amazing VR showcased at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals — but VR content creators are really just in the early stages of understanding how the medium works. Not only is there no “blockbuster” VR piece yet, if you make an investment in a headset today, you’d be able to watch the majority of the best work in a weekend.
Because of this, VR faces many critics who decry it as a bubble waiting to burst. So, what makes VR a medium with potential? Why should consumers, brands, content producers and artists take a chance on its future?
Every popular medium was built upon its early advocates’ fervent belief in its unique potential. The early advocates of cinema saw its potential to bend time and transform space magically; the pioneers of recorded music saw the potential to immortalize sound, which was previously just ephemera. The early advocates of the web saw the potential to connect people to information and make it universally accessible. These are the reasons why those mediums mattered.
So, why does VR matter? Why is it so revolutionary?
The most common answer is presence: VR has the promise of making you feel present in another place, another time, or to have a perspective that you couldn’t have otherwise. This is perhaps why so many of the best VR experiences thus far have been documentary in nature, and why companies interested in telepresence, like Facebook, have invested in it so heavily. If presence is the defining attribute of VR as a medium, then the key to shaping meaningful, impactful VR experiences will be found in shaping presence. Read more on Why does virtual reality matter? Presence!…