Somehow it isn't shaping up quite how I imagined. As Pete says, back in the 80s, when William Gibson's Neuromancer was stoking the zeitgeist and cyberspace was all over the mainstream media, there was a general feeling that Virtual Reality wasn't just the future, it was our future.
Somehow, I don't think this is what any of us were imagining back then, especially not after three decades of technical innovation. It doesn't even come with straps.
With the default cardboard you have to hold the whole thing up to your face
Pete's description of Google's VR on the cheap sounded so bizarre I had to go to Amazon to see for myself. It does indeed look like half a shoe box, "Made from High Quality, Hard-Wearing Cardboard", into which you shove your smartphone. It reminded me of the old ViewMaster we used to have when I was a child, all the way back in the 1960s.
And guess what? ViewMaster is still going. And they've spotted a marketing window they probably never dreamed would open for them again. Here's the ViewMaster Virtual Reality Starter Pack. For not much more than the cost of the Google Cardboard you can get something vaguely retro-futuristic in red plastic. And you shove your smartphone into it and hold it to your face. Again.
I don't know. I had something a little more...sophisticated in mind. Forget William Gibson and cyberspace. My desire for VR goes back a lot further than that. I grew up reading Philip K Dick, where housewives spent the day immersed in the lives of soap opera stars, their lonely monologues seamlessly integrated into the action streaming from their giant wall-screens.
Further down the VR rabbit hole, entire PKD families subsumed their consciousnesses to the doll world of Perky Pat. I wanted to join them but when you've been waiting all your life for CanD and layouts, retooled ViewMasters and Skylanders just aren't going to cut it.
|Image found at this blog|
Then I started wondering. What are the long-term implications for your sight of holding a smartphone four and a half centimeters from your eyeballs? Sure, it was never going to do any of us much harm, looking at static three-dimensional images of the Grand Canyon for a few minutes, but if this whole thing takes off we could all end up strapped in for hours. Every day.
C. T. Murphy, in the comments on yesterday's post, wished for VR support for EverQuest. It sounds fanciful in the extreme, retrofitting the latest technology onto a game that many would believe should have been retired long ago. But is it?
When a new medium successfully supplants an older one there's usually a rush to convert past successes to present standards. How many times have we bought the same music or movies, on vinyl, cd, dvd, mp3...? Who's to say that if VR goes truly mainstream we won't see everything and anything ported over, especially if it turns out that the process can be automated?
EverQuest was famous - infamous - for its addictive nature. The whole MMORPG genre is. Gaming sessions frequently run for many hours even with the unimmersive pseudo 3D we've all been pretending to enjoy on our primitive flatscreens all these years. Wrap that drug in 360 degree sensory overload and who's going to want to stop?
So I turned to Google again. Someone must be researching the side effects and the downsides, right? Well not so much as you'd think. I read half a dozen articles on the web, from journalists, scientists, industry analysts and concerned bystanders. The takeway I got from all of them is that no-one has a clue.
Sharples is cautious about linking known “effects” with “problems” - the evidence, she says is simply not available.
when it comes to understanding how VR affects the brain, scientists "don't really know what's going on," said Mayank Mehta, a neuroscientist at UCLA
I asked whether using VR systems for long periods of time could result in long-term vergence-accommodation problems.
“Well, we don’t really know,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a smoking gun out there, but what we don’t know is long-term use — let’s say 12 hours a day — would that have any long-term effect? I doubt it, but I can’t prove that to you scientifically.
the lack of long term studies on the possible impact of VR headsets may make caution sensible
All quotes from the linked articles. No one knows. Go ahead. Be your own guinea pig.
|I think I need glasses.|
Of course, if you're a gamer, chances are you won't be content with a twenty dollar strap-on for your phone. Most likely you'll be in for a few hundred when Playstation VR arrives just in time for Christmas; that's if you're not already in hock for your Oculus Rift.
Does a higher price tag mean better health outcomes? Possibly, at least when we're talking focal length and comfort fit, but definitely not when it comes to all those many imponderables from nausea to vergence-accomodation to psychological dependency.
Of course, as some of the writers of the quoted articles point out, every new technology arrives with a slew of fearful warnings and dire threats. Even reading a novel was once considered a danger to your health. We all seem to muddle along with books, radio, cinema and television somehow, and all of them were reckoned in their early days to be harbingers of the end for civilization.
Still and all, I think I'll wait a while. Much though I'd love to wander the mean streets of a three-dimensional Freeport and watch as The Overlord pushes another dissident into the pit, I'm holding out for a tabletop hologram system. Should be along any day now. Delivered by drone, naturally.