Virtual Reality & The New Compromise
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A Vision, Compromised
For years, the promise of digital immersion and alternate realities permeated its way into the zeitgeist of popular futurism. Yet it wasn’t until American entrepreneur Palmer Luckey revived the VR industry with the release of the Oculus Rift in 2012, paving the way for a new standard in enterprise, education, and entertainment. Virtual reality promised a bold experience, an inclusive platform, and a seamless bridge connecting our world to the virtual one. Companies from around the world sprung up overnight, chasing trends and financial forecasts, hoping to take home a piece of the prize. Fast-forward to 2020, and while virtual reality continues to spark interest in enthusiasts and hard-core gamers, it remains stifled by a range of detractors such as cost, comfort, locomotion, and hygiene.
If ever there was a concern about the hygienic nature of virtual reality, COVID-19 has shattered consumer confidence and left owners and operators reticent in the face of future development. However, virtual reality will not end with COVID, but instead will find new opportunities in a post-pandemic world, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the technology as it evolves into its next chapter.
In 2019, Thinkwell Group opened the first of its kind, indoor, vertical theme park, Lionsgate Entertainment World, in Zhuhai, China. With three, purpose-built, virtual reality attractions, we learned a great deal from our in-field observations and guest reviews about the benefits and challenges of virtual reality.
Immersion is king. Yet, transportive environments are only a piece of the puzzle. True immersion stems from guest embodiment and real-world physics. Whether wielding a flashlight, steering a motorbike, or solving puzzles, every interaction must carry the burden of the real world or risk breaking the illusion. In addition, real-time media proved far more engaging than pre-rendered content, allowing guests the opportunity to take agency of their world and create a personalized and repeatable experience.
Conversely, we learned about some of the limitations and challenges from our creative partners and guests. Accessibility remains a constant goal for designers, ensuring that all guests can experience safe and comfortable moments together. However, due to the size, weight and form factor of many early generation headsets, guests with limited visual acuity or physical mobility found it challenging to maintain an optimal posture or retain a clear, focused, and immersive visual environment throughout the experience. Thankfully, there continues to be a wave of emerging technology that caters to guest accessibility. While many are still in their infancy, we know that these challenges are not insurmountable, but rather, they are stepping stones along the path to an optimal guest experience.
As we look ahead to a post-COVID world, there will undoubtedly be a shift in education, enterprise and entertainment. From visualization in the form of remote collaboration, to annotation in the form of real-time, remote instructions, to storytelling, and a new wave of haptic immersion; students, educators, and professionals are at the precipice of a new era in experiential engagement thanks to advances in emerging technologies.
When it’s time to untether and venture outside, additional emerging technologies can transform public spaces without the use or necessity of limiting hardware. Technologies such as mapped projection, mixed reality glasses, and digital characters or environments can enhance our physical surroundings without the use of single-serving, cumbersome devices. However, there remain three key takeaways for any activation or attraction to remain successful: friendly competition, inclusivity and immersion.
In the days, months and years to follow, social etiquette will shift, industries will evolve and technology will advance. We will remove our masks, we will interact, and together, we will smile. People are inherently social creatures and we at Thinkwell will continue to explore safe, effective, and memorable experiences to bring people together, wherever in the world life takes us.