Feeling VR

This summer I worked at YouTube. As a result, I was able to test out some up and coming products. One of these was the next version of the VR headset. I had never tried VR before, and was frankly skeptical. After seeing videos of VR, I thought the quality was crude and therefore unable to create a realistic rendition or illicit any real emotion. This summer proved me wrong. 

Though the view wasn’t always entirely realistic (at times, it was choppy looking side to side), the feelings were entirely real. I tried going on a roller coaster, and felt scared. In the pit of the my stomach scared. Walking away from this experience made me see emotions and experiences entirely differently. If I can feel something just by seeing it rather than actually experiencing it, are feelings like that of fear or motion sickness just mental? It left me thinking I could possibly take more control over my emotional state than I realized – probably with the help of systems like the one I had tried. 

Thinking back to the Holmquist article, this possibility of training ones’ emotions via a virtual simulation feels quite like a cargo cult design. You are entering a space that creates the semblance of an experience, to which you may react as you normally would, but it does not actually create that experience. The user can potentially walk away from such an experience thinking they now know how they will react in that actual experience.

Take my roller coaster example – after trying it out in VR, I may now think that this is how I will react on an actual roller coaster. However, the simulation is only somewhat reflective of a real experience. I may enjoy it less in real life because there novelty of using the VR device is missing. I may feel less queasy in my stomach because the cold wind is refreshing my face. But, because I had an emotional reaction to the simulation, my mind thinks I have just experienced a roller coaster. Per Homlquist’s warning, it is important here for the developer/ designer to indicate to the user how much they should take away from their VR experience.

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