Are virtual reality headsets too immersive for their own good?

[The author’s answer to the question in the headline is no. This is from Forbes. –Matthew ]

Oculus Rift

Are Virtual Reality Headsets Too Immersive For Their Own Good?

Seth Porges

In the burgeoning world of virtual reality, to use is to believe. With few exceptions, I’ve found it takes but a quick demo on an Oculus Rift (or one of its growing number of competitors) for skeptics to realize how awesome—and awesomely immersive—the tech can be. Five minutes, and all your held-over-from-the-nineties notions of VR (and, as the show Community recently pointed out, its disastrous effect on nineties cinema) are likely to dissolve into wide-jawed yelps of “Awesome”.

But a tech that rises on its promise of immersion also opens itself up to a similarly grounded liability. The problem: These days, people tend to multitask their media. We watch TV while tapping a tablet while texting on our phones while browsing on our laptops. This is one reason I’m bullish on the future of podcasts: The audio-only nature of the medium makes it easy to consume while you are taking on other tasks such as hitting the gym or driving to work.

By their very nature, VR headsets require total and undivided attention; and an almost zen-like ability to disengage from our phones or email. And I don’t even want to know what would happen if you wore one to the gym or while driving to work.

There are two ways to read this problem, one of which is that it is not a problem at all. If you’re using a VR headset, you are likely using it in a hyper-engaged manner that is music to the ears of developers and marketers. Just because a TV is on doesn’t mean anybody is paying attention to it. I can’t imagine using an Oculus Rift and not paying attention.

The immersive nature of VR also creates the possibility for content that consumers return to again and again, just to see all the details they may have missed the first time around. If you’re watching a movie that was adapted for VR, it’s highly unlikely you’ll notice every single detail the first time around. And if you enjoyed something, you may find yourself experiencing it again, just to see what is different if you turn your head to a different angle at a different time.

I’m reminded of the recent surge in immersive theater, especially in New York. When you attend Sleep No More and Then She Fellsite-specific shows that encourage explorations of physical spaces—y0u experience different things, depending on where you find yourself and when. It is not uncommon for fans to return to these shows several—or even dozens—of times just to see what they may have missed.

The same applies to VR. Not only does the format allow for developers and producers to create content that is impossible to consume in its entirety the first time around, but it also lends itself to content that encourages discussion and tip sharing and online chatter as users explore and discover the best ways to experience a VR game or movie.

In short: It lends itself to the creation of buzz.


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