Beyond Nausea: The Reality of Virtual Reality Headsets

I was so excited about Oculus Rift. As of the past couple weeks there are a slew of VR Headsets announced by Valve, Sony, Microsoft. I was so excited about the possibilities until I actually tried the headset. I didn't want to even admit it to myself but

Editorial Illustration by Elizabeth Boylan

Anyone attending GDC will attest that Gaming is now entering a new phase via Virtual Reality Headsets.

I was so excited about Oculus Rift when it first came out in 2012. As of the past week with GDC there have been a few VR Headsets announced by Valve, Sony, and Microsoft which announced their Hololens in late January of this year.

I first tried the Oculus Rift at a Unite Conference in 2013. Before I tried it, I asked people their first impression. One developer from EA, mentioned how it was weird because it completely cut off his sight of his own body and he couldn't see his hands in front of him. His description felt so disembodying, I became skeptical of the hype that had seduced me initially.

Finally, on the last day of the conference, there wasn't a queue of developers at the Oculus Rift booth and so I walked over to demo the headset. 

Exactly as was related, when I put the Oculus Rift Headset on, I could no longer see my body, my hands or arms in front of me and my head was in a box. Instead of voice, I was instructed to use my eyes to focus to press virtual button controllers. This was August 2013. Obviously Oculus Rift are pioneers in this space, and the device will iterate and get better made me sick. Literally I felt sea sick- nauseous. I didn't want to admit it to myself but I took the headset off and mentioned to the Oculus Rift guys. They said, yes, this happens for some people. Apparently just a small percentage and they are working on it.

I shared my experience with my partner, he tried the Oculus Rift that afternoon. Him too. Nauseous. Based on our personal experience, and the fact that we wouldn't be able to work with the device without puking, we crossed it off our list for further research.

I noticed something else. Trying the device seemed to temporarily sever a connection in my mind. Touch. When I returned from the conference, we were greeted by our dog. I love my dog. Post conference, cuddling with her and petting her, I felt something click. My sense of touch. It was as though the connection in my mind was turned off and turned on again being with a living breathing animal. I could really 'feel' her fur. Another way of looking at it, maybe my sense of touch was even re-calibrated? I tend to lean to the perception that touching something real was my post Oculus Rift fix. 

Valve's Gabe Newell claims no one gets nauseous using the Vive VR headset. I'm doubtful of this claim but it doesn't matter, because I don't want to put something on my face that blocks out the world around me or sharing my experience with the people I love. 

Like technology has been doing, Virtual Reality Headsets will absolutely re-wire our minds and its connection to our sensory. Re-wiring minds has it's place and benefits. Just consider Post Traumatice Stress Disorder (PTSD), where gradually one can overcome a trauma experience to dim the impact of triggers on their everyday life. Though the better these devices get at simulating reality, our acute perception and divide between what is simulated and what is authentic will be at stake. 

Then again maybe our hunger for authentic connection will be recalibrated with Virtual Reality? Like all good things, everything in moderation or will VR be more like addiction to something not good ? What do you think? 

If you're into movies on the subject of Virtual Reality, I recommend one starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood from 1983 titled, Brainstorm.


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