Let's (not) share our VR headsets


It is hard to get people excited about VR. Even at its best, it is an isolating experience - that's why Zuck is pushing the social features of The Metaverse so hard. But, worse still, it's hard to show people what the VR experience is like.

If your friend buys a 4K laser projector, you can immediately understand the appeal of the massive screen. Even if you only see the photos of it on Facebook, you get what the experience is like.

Games are different. While having a parasocial relationship with a Twitch gamer may be fun, it isn't a particularly good demonstration of what playing a game is actually like.

Back in the days before Internet connected games consoles, we had to rely on demo games set up in shops. Your local video game emporium would have a console and two hardwired gamepads set up - along with a demo cartridge of whatever the Next Big Game was.

Something like this:

Tall retail unit with a CRT TV on top - it has Sega Dreamcast branding.

Back in the day, those controllers were smeared with the grease - and worse - of a thousand teenage hands. We played until we were thrown off and then ate Sbarro pizza without washing our hands. Grim. But these were the days before hand sanitiser was de rigueur.

How can you reproduce that visceral excitement with VR?

A few years ago, I got to demo the a prototype VR headset at a conference. I queued up behind a dozen people and patiently waited my turn. I eagerly grabbed the proffered headset with both hands and jammed my face into it.

You know that feeling when you go to a public toilet and the seat is still warm from the last customer...?

As well as having to tighten the headset, adjust the eye separation, and make sure the lenses are clean - you have to make sure the unit is wiped down. No, really wiped down. Like with proper cleaning fluid.

I refer you to this delightful paper - "Bacterial Load of Virtual Reality Headsets" - where researchers swabbed headsets to see what dark germs they contained:

The results of these tests indicated that the Staphylococcus aureus strains isolated from the headsets possessed high levels of antibiotic resistance.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3385956.3418958

The whole paper is worth a read - unless you're particularly squeamish.

VR is a lonely, plague-ridden experience.


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