Oculus Rift

Why I’m both fascinated and afraid of the Oculus Rift

In the Michael Ende novel ’The Neverending Story’, bullied schoolboy Bastian borrows a very special book from antiquarian bookseller C. C. Coreander. He cuts class and settles into the school attic, where he starts to read. At that moment, Bastian is drawn (along with the reader) into the world of Fantasia and the story about its impending doom. Overwhelmed by the danger and the creatures he meets, Bastian puts down the book, and is immediately back in the same attic and the exact same surroundings.

What is Oculus Rift?

Simply put, Oculus Rift is a virtual reality (VR) headset. You place it on your head, and two screens show an image to each eye. The mask has sensors that can register whether you are looking sideways, up, or down. This way, the screen can show a floor when you look down, and a blue sky when you look up. Because there is one image for each eye, the seen is experienced as spatial and three-dimensional. Oculus started as a Kickstarter project, raising 2.5 million dollars. In 2014, it was sold to Facebook for 2 billion dollars. The launch of Oculus Rift is expected in the spring of 2016.

Off to Someplace Else

One could be led to believe that the fascination about Oculus Rift is putting on the glasses and immersing yourself in this colorful and lifelike reality. The most fascinating thing, however, is when you take off the glasses and discover that you have been off to someplace else, while real life remains unchanged. Will we see children and adults disappear into the Oculus fantasy? I don’t doubt it for a minute.

Oculus is designed for one purpose, to trick our senses, our brain. If it didn’t do so, it would have no function, but that’s exactly what it can do. Nevertheless, not everyone is equally fascinated by this parallel reality, just as not everyone loves the Neverending Story, Harry Potter, Astrid Lindgren, adventure movies or computer games.

Being There Yourself

The greatest difference between Oculus Rift and the screens we know today (TVs, monitors, smartphones, movie theaters), is really like the difference between seeing something and experiencing being there yourself. For now, Oculus does require a bit of imagination and effort from the user. Obviously, the effect is not 100% convincing yet. It requires an effort to identify with the new setting and a willingness to believe, the same way we’ve had to do so with computer games over the past 20 years. They become more spectacular and convincing each year – but they have always been able to fascinate and draw people into their worlds.

How much further gone will those be, who already now spend 12 hours a day playing World of Warcraft? Will we see special treatments against VR gambling addiction and dependency?

Virtual Memories

Before Google Maps and Google StreetView, it was hard to get an impression of what a street, a hotel, or an area looked like. Today, you may already have an impression of the city, to which you are travelling, even before you purchase the tickets. Will virtual reality be able to give virtual memories, the way we see it in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Total Recall?

I have not tried the final, finished version of Oculus that’s arriving on the market in 2016. I have tried an early version made by the developers called Oculus Rift DK2. With that I rode a rollercoaster, up and down, and I walked around a haunted house in the middle of the night.

I remember it – but did I really experience it?

I’m not really sure, but it was awesome!