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What happens if Oculus Rift becomes popular?

by William Schwartz

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There’s been a surprising resurgence of 3D technology these days. 3D movies, 3D laptop screens, 3D-capable game consoles. It’s all an interesting sight to see. The anaglyphic 3D of old is long gone, replaced by its brother; stereoscopic. Back in the day, people wore silly blue and red glasses made of cheap plastic that you could poke through with a pin and cardboard that could bend easier than a Olympic gymnast; it was cool. 3D lost its flare sometime in the early 2000’s. I’m fairly certain the last “major” 3D film in theaters was Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 2005. No, that is not a joke. They seriously made a film entitled Sharkboy and Lavagirl. That’s for another article on another site not about video games, though.

3D in video games became popular with the Virtual Boy, a device not so eerily unlike the device which this article is really about: The Oculus Rift. The Virtual Boy as a device was expensive and hardly had any noteworthy games. It was also a strain on the eyes and the pictures were tiny. That’s not first hand experience, but those are complaints that many people had about the Virtual Boy. It was certainly no revolutionary device. It was a gimmick, used only for the purpose of showing off how cool it would be in 3D. Apparently kids whining to their parents about the new Virtual Boy was not enough to warrant a buy for most children. So, 3D never really took off in the video game market. There were 3D devices before the Virtual Boy but none of them were really as spectacular of a failure as it was.

The Return of the Virtual Boy, is just one of the many applications that developers have found for Oculus Rift

The history of 3D is interesting. In addition to anaglyphic 3D movies and video game peripherals, there were also stereoscopic media. These weren’t very popular as video games or movies. The technology wasn’t quite there to produce such things. In 1938, the Wheatstone stereoscope was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone. It could only use drawings, but was the first stereoscope invented. Later on, David Brewster came up with the Brewster stereoscope in 1851. In 1931, stereoscopic film became available in the slide viewers. They became popular in the late 40’s and 50’s and continue to be sold this day. There was even a camera made invented in 1947 called the Stereo Realist camera. Stereoscopic imagery was all fine and dandy, a fun little thing to view, an other-worldly way to see pictures. It was almost like stepping into the picture; however, it was not.

When James Cameron came out with Avatar in 2009 and put it in 3D, introducing new technology and a new element to watching movies, he started a craze. Suddenly, 3D movies started coming out on a regular basis. 3D TVs were on sale. Even 3D monitors and laptops, video cards capable of handling 3D, various peripherals and even the 3DS. The 3DS doesn’t require any glasses and is the first real step into the new 3D gaming craze. It’s going even further, though. So far, that we’ve come to the Oculus Rift.

I haven’t gotten my hands on an Oculus Rift yet. I plan on it, it’s on my list of to-do’s and things that I need to get my rear in gear for. Even with all this said, it’s interesting to see what will come of it. It’s interesting to see what people are saying about it, how the community is all hyped up for it. All of a sudden, there’s all these game developers and indie developers looking to get a piece of the pie. Some of them are working on independent games and simulations for it. Some people are modifying or even making their own proprietary software work with the Oculus Rift. To see people get behind a piece of hardware is incredible and to know that it could be something big is truly heart-warming thing to behold. There’s a big “but”, though. A very big one:

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What happens if the Oculus Rift becomes wildly popular with gamers?

But, I worry that it may be another Virtual Boy or another silly movie and gimmick that doesn’t work out. It’s not too expensive with the price point for the dev kit being only 300. There’s a lot of media surrounding it and a lot of interest being generated. If it fails, it will fail miserably. If the technology isn’t there and the execution is poor for the consumer version, we’re looking at a very expensive paper weight. There’s the issue of support. What if the Oculus Rift isn’t supported? If game developers and hobbyists have no interest in supporting the neat gadget, then it’s useless. These are pretty obvious points, so there’s really no need to elaborate on them. I think what people haven’t thought about is the real consequence of VR and the Oculus Rift: What if it takes off?

If the Oculus Rift takes off, will we become more isolated? Will this technology evolve into something more obscene, something more offensive: Humanity becoming separated. We are already losing our humanity in a way. We don’t talk to each other, we just text. We don’t see each other’s facial expressions, we just text. Sometimes Skype or a phone call or what-have-you will fix this, granted; but it’s not enough. We’re a culture of long-distance relationships. We hardly ever touch or communicate or help each other. The Oculus Rift will increase this. I’m fully behind it, don’t get me wrong, but the truth is that we’re going to isolate more than we already have. I can see it now. I can picture it.

A cafe. A cyber cafe. Everyone has their Oculus Rift or VR goggles. Whatever the future holds, we’ll have it. Folks sits there, slack-jawed and emotionless, staring off into space. Everyone talks, but it’s in their own world, into a microphone and across the world. No contact, just the goggles and the transportation to the get there. Most people probably won’t even do it in a cafe to be honest. It’s more of a home thing. It’s not so different than the world we live in now, to be fair. People do it with their smart phones and iPods and other assorted electronics peripherals. We’ve already reached that point.

However; it is possible that the Oculus Rift could bridge the gap even further. It could transcend the issue of humans not having interaction. Eventually, with improvements in photorealistic depictions in the virtual world and in controls and movement, we could have a way to “see” people from across the world. I mean more than we already do. Imagine something like Second Life or even more so like the depiction of virtual reality in Snow Crash. A fantastic world with everyone able to talk to each other and see each other. A world where people can truly interact in an almost real way. No one needs to be apart from each other, they just put their helmets on and interact as if they were truly together and do things they wouldn’t be able to do in real life, even. That excites me more than anything else; the path of the Oculus Rift.

It is the future though, and the future holds many interesting things. I think ultimately it’s for the better, it’s got a lot of interesting technology behind it and I’m excited to see it. I don’t doubt that if it takes off, it will revolutionize the technology industry. And in my heart, with the recent advancements in 3D and the relative cheapness of the Oculus Rift that it will ultimately be a fantastic thing. Just remember that we’re human and we ought to be human together, not separated and alone. Perhaps the Oculus Rift can fuse the gap.

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