Anyone who has been lucky enough to try the Oculus Touch Toybox demo will understand just how magical interacting with other people in virtual reality can be.
It’s a great demo for many reasons. It elegantly illustrates the power of the Oculus Touch controllers, and shows why hand-tracking is such a natural input device for VR. More importantly, it demonstrates how powerful social connections can be inside virtual reality.
VR acts as an emotion amplifier: fear and awe are much stronger than in books, on TV or via mobile, where you are spectating from the outside. This amplification also seems to work with social emotions – the ability to have fun with someone else, feel connected to them and experience things together in a shared world.
This connection is evident even with well-animated AI characters. Sony demonstrated this well with its VR demo, London Heist. A gangster threatens you with a blowtorch and stares into your eyes, before handing you a phone. Having a virtual person look at you is quite unsettling, and the feeling of reaching out and taking an object from someone else is surprisingly powerful. When you can do this live with another human, the feeling is stronger still.
VR headset manufacturers understand the importance of making VR social. Both PlayStation VR and SteamVR will display a single screen on your display by default, allowing other people in the same room to see what you are doing.
PS VR goes one step further, allowing devs to create an entirely different view on the TV, so that non-VR players can interact in the game alongside the headset user.
VR may well be the tool that allows virtual worlds such as Second Life and PlayStation Home to reach a mass-market scale.
VR is also not just about games. Facebook has spoken about its desire for virtual reality to allow people to ‘teleport’ themselves to real places in the world. Put a 3D 360-degree camera in the middle of your daughter’s birthday party, and your family on the other side of the world can view this in real-time in their headsets and feel part of the event.
Virtual worlds are also going to be big in VR. Titles such as Second Life or PlayStation Home have grabbed the imagination over the years, but never managed to reach mass-market scale.VR may well be the tool that allows these to hit the next level.
Most people are hard-wired to be social, and the advent of the internet has allowed people to connect anywhere in the world. Add VR into the mix and, rather than a grainy Skype video or a Facebook message window, you’ll actually feel that you’re hanging out in the same physical space together. Just imagine the impact on international conference calls alone.
Ultimately, I’m convinced that the dream of a mass VR metaverse, illustrated by books like Ready Player One, will come to fruition – and my money would be on Facebook developing it.
So, the next time someone tells you that VR is an isolating single-player experience, tell them you know better.
This article is part of our month-long Virtual Reality Special. You can find more VR content here.