Monthly Archives: March 2016

  • How Will Virtual Reality Affect Social Media?

    VR gives men and women the first alternate gender experience. VR gives men and women the first alternate gender experience (Barcelona).


    When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was buying Oculus VR, a lot of people expressed skepticism. With over a billion users, what need does Facebook have for what a lot of people think is  a mere gaming platform, to enhance the social media experience?

    Many points have already been raised against social media - how it has made people unsociable, conversations more curt (or at least within a word count), and feelings, objectives, and intentions more filtered. Now with apps aiming to enhance social media interactions using VR, the question seems to be: will it make online interactions more fractured, or will it actually bring people closer?

    The advantage of avatars

    On the flip side, anonymity has allowed many social media interactions to become bolder, opinions louder, and in extreme cases, incendiary. Putting a face on these interactions using profile pictures and avatars help to "humanize" the interactions somewhat. Avatars and the best-looking head shots  in your stash of digital photos have now become a sort of first-impression armor - the facade that can either solidify your online persona or make it hard to take seriously.

    With VR avatars, the subtleties of someone's persona are more noticeable. These virtual versions of one's self, once let loose on a VR social networking platform, will become representatives of an online persona that aims to be more "tangible" in a way that a montage of travel, food, and OOTD photos and cryptic posts can't achieve.

    Real time still matters

    The term "seen-zoned" was born from the inadvertent hurt feelings caused by Facebook and other social media platforms' notification settings. A message was sent, delivered, "seen", and ignored - but a lot can be said about the amount of time people spend online, and a significant portion of that time not responding to a message.

    Apps that will contribute to virtual reality social media promise virtual destinations, hang outs, selfies, and all manner of interactions with other avatars. The difference is that these interactions will happen in real time, regardless of the "unreality" of socializing in a virtual world. Personal spaces are still defined, and social codes are set in place. Perhaps the bottom line is that physical presence is still required to interact in this new virtual space.

    New frontiers in interaction

    Then there are the infinite possibilities of deeper social interactions using virtual reality. For instance, a group of students from Barcelona created BeAnotherLab, a project that let male and female experiment participants swap bodies and visualize the experience in real-time. Called "The Machine to Be Another", the participants were given VR headsets which projected their counterpart's POV camera images, while asked to follow the same set of instructions. The experiment allowed people to explore another gender's experiences and identity while still maintaining boundaries to personal spaces.

    Mark Zuckerberg himself described virtual reality as a sort of social space, one that people will be using to share experiences in a new communication platform. All the attractions of virtual reality combined with the need to project the best possible version of one's self on social media could prove to be an irresistible and amazing experience.
  • Vintage Virtual Reality and Science Fiction

    Before virtual reality (as we currently know it) became an accessible concept, it was better known as a science fiction terminology in the early to mid-1980s. Video games, simulation, and other computer-generated scenario were the realms of VR. An artificial intelligence usually dictated the rules of virtual reality, with the human merely being a player or guest in its realm.

    "Disembodied consciousness"

    One such award-winning - nay, triple-award-winning work of science fiction was the 1984 novel  Neuromancer, by William Gibson. Neuromancer was a story within the cyberpunk genre, the first in the Sprawl trilogy, and winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. It revolves around a down-and-out computer hacker in dystopian Japan, and the Matrix, which is described as "a disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination".


    Theodor Nelson wrote "Interactive Systems and the Design of Virtuality" in 1980, whose terminology was believed to have inspired the term and scientific applications of "Virtual Reality", a guide written a decade later by Howard Rheingold. However, the term virtual reality is more popularly attributed to computer genius Jaron Lanier. Virtual reality had its use in computer science back then, but it was a term not tossed around casually as it is today.

    The somewhat muddled usage of the term decades ago has since been more or less agreed on as being a secondary reality. However, today's practical applications, including for business, games, medicine, the arts, and politics, has made the term and all its applications accessible - even for first-time users. VR has become more interactive than ever, but more importantly, it's become even more relatable.

  • Star Wars' VR Experience as a Storytelling Medium

    Last December, Star Wars Episode VII was released, and movie fans everywhere took a trip back to that galaxy far far away. The story of a young scavenger girl, a conflicted soldier, and a rebellion - sorry, we meant resistance -  was shown on thousands of screens around the world. That story played out primarily as a cinematic experience, but sometimes you need supplemental media to feel just how deep and vast that world is.


    Star Wars has always embraced multimedia when telling stories (Gen Xers will remember Shadows of the Empire, a story set between Episodes V and VI, and told through a myriad of books, comics, and video games), and this openness to new technology was apparent in the 360 virtual reality experience for The Force Awakens.

    In the interactive video, you blast through the barren wastes of Jakku while riding Rey's customized speeder. You can pan the camera (your POV) in any direction. Remnants of Star Destroyers loom. Stuff blows up around you.  It's an in media res story that requires you to fill in a lot of gaps. In theory, the experience sounds simple enough. It's an interactive video that's still somewhat passive.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 5.38.02 PM

    But in practice, it actually adds to our overall experience of the movie. It, simply put, tells a story. It's not a deep story, but it gives the senses a lot to chew on- from the terrain littered with the remnants of the Battle of Jakku to marauding scavengers and pirates. It presents these fossilized bits of history from a more visceral perspective (you can almost feel the groan of those repulsors!), giving us an even deeper appreciation for the film.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 5.38.13 PM

    Supplemental content such as this will become an even bigger part of the promotional push for big genre movies. The fact that it's a promotional tool doesn't take away from its storytelling possibilities. Star Wars The Force Awakens Immersive 360 Experience shows the potential for virtual reality as a story telling medium. We can't wait to see what comes next!

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