We all look like Palmer Luckey on the cover of Time magazine when playing Virtual Reality.
I'm sure you've seen the image by now: Palmer Luckey, the 22-year-old inventor of Oculus Rift, floating in mid-air on a beach. He's not wearing any shoes.
The internet has attacked the cover, and the article inside of it. Time says Palmer Luckey "is not your typical nerd". "He doesn't look like a guy who played Dungeons & Dragons so much as a character in Dungeons & Dragons. He's a nerd from a different century, working on the problems of a different century."
I've seen specialist video game press call the Time cover "insulting". Some people have pointed out Vin Diesel likes Dungeons & Dragons. There are already hundreds of new takes on the Time cover. Everyone's a Photoshop comedian these days, it seems.
The Time cover is embarrassing for Virtual Reality, Oculus and Palmer Luckey, but the magazine's point is that Virtual Reality is the next big thing. It may well be. I've played plenty of virtual reality games over the last year or so, and many of them have blown me away. I played a racing game called Radial-G and it made me feel like I was playing WipEout in real life. I played Elite: Dangerous with Oculus Rift and it made me feel like I was in Star Wars. Virtual Reality is different, and brilliant, and troubling, and exciting, and it makes me feel sick quite a lot of the time.
But in creating one of the worst Photoshop jobs of the year, Time has inadvertently nailed the big problem with Virtual Reality: it'll never be cool.
Lots and lots of people won't care about this. Lots and lots of people, early adopters, late adopters, whoever, will happily play Virtual Reality with a toaster strapped to their face and leap about their living room as if they're recreating the montage from Lion King. That's great! I'm jealous of you people. Dance like no-one's watching.
For me, though, I just feel like a melon playing Virtual Reality. A lot of people will say I already look like a melon, and a virtual reality headset is the least of my problems. Bang on. But I imagine there are a lot of people out there who do not look like a melon under normal circumstances and playing Virtual Reality will in fact make them look like a melon.
Virtual Reality has an image problem, and the Time cover lays it bare. I'm sat here in front of my computer looking at it and it's like looking in the mirror. That's what I look like playing Virtual Reality. That's what we all look like when playing Virtual Reality.
I'm sat in my pants playing internet spaceships with a mobile phone strapped to my face and my younger brother walks in the room and slaps me in the head. "What the f**k are you doing?" he laughs. "I'm flying in space, you prick," I retort while scrambling to press pause on a controller I can't see. This is the reality of my Virtual Reality.
I'm in Whitgift shopping centre in Croydon and Sony has a booth where they're letting people play Morpheus. Sony hopes people will get Virtual Reality once they play it, and rush to drop £300 on the latest gadget for their PlayStation 4. But no-one dares try it because they're afraid someone will push them over and nick their shopping. Oh, and you have to hold controllers that look like glowing dildos.
Valve's Vive scares me the most, because I imagine it will be absolutely incredible, and there will be some Half-Life Virtual Reality experience I'll have to play and want to play forever and ever, and a Portal thing that'll make me puke as it throws me through the air, but the melon factor with this thing is through the roof.
Valve has these two Lighthouse base stations you need to put somewhere in your living room that read the position of your headset and hands. You're wearing a headset on your face, holding these two controllers and standing in the middle of these two black bricks.
Virtual Reality - this latest version of it - has yet to get off the ground. It's still baking in the oven, its first baby steps a distant dream. The hardware will get better, and, I hope, look cooler. But right now, and next year when Facebook and Sony and HTC need to work out a way to sell these things in shops, Virtual Reality is kind of weird and makes us look very silly indeed. After the early adopters have had their fun, after the nerds like me have destroyed all the internet spaceships and nailed the loop-the-loop without puking, who will play?
I'm pretty sure nothing about Virtual Reality is cool. I worry Virtual Reality never will be. Most of us aren't Vin Diesel playing Dungeons & Dragons. Most of us are Palmer Luckey playing Oculus Rift.
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