If you have read any trend predictions for this year, you should already know that 2016 is regarded as being the year for virtual reality (VR). Both new and existing tech brands have offerings in this space from Oculus Rift to HTC Valve, Sony Playstation VR, and Microsoft Hololens.
Therefore, the first ever VRUK Festival at Ravensbourne College in London took place at a time when VR appears to be at the front of everyone’s minds.
As a newcomer to VR, and its potential applications within campaigns, the event was an unmissable opportunity for me to experience the very latest technology and see how it has been applied to everything from film trailers to immersive experiences of solitary confinement.
Immersion in the virtual world
I headed straight for the two immersion zones at VRUK, which were filled with opportunities to try out the sheer diversity of VR experiences out there. The applications range from a promotional VR scene for The Avengers: Age of Ultron film to a VR tour of a penthouse apartment for sale in Singapore.
It’s easy to get lost in the virtual world you see before your eyes when you are wearing a VR headset- I had to stop myself a few times from reaching out to touch my virtual surroundings! The ability of the technology to totally immerse you in an alternate situation explains why VR is being used to help treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Guardian’s ‘6×9: An immersive experience of solitary confinement’ was one of the more powerful and harrowing examples of VR in action. Not only did the headset allow the user to experience what life is like for people in solitary confinement, it also brought to life the psychological damage that these people often have to endure.
‘Is VR a fad?’
The event was a fantastic way to see how VR has been used so far, to listen to the leaders in the field discuss their experiences and offer their predictions for the future. However, one of the most memorable comments of the day came in Jane Gauntlett’s talk on ‘Interactive Theatre, Technology & Empathy’, when she questioned whether VR is just a fad.
It was very evident from both the keynote talks and the demonstrations in the immersion zone that VR has so far found itself most relevant, and most used, in gaming. However, the general feeling was certainly that this is just the beginning and there will be a lot of exciting developments to come.
The resounding message that hit home throughout the day for me was the fact this technology is still in its infancy. Many of the speakers discussed projects where they paved the way for others by trying something new and were very honest with shortfalls or mistakes in their work so far.
Looking to the future
If 2016 is going to be the year of VR, then it is also going to be the year of discovery. As more and more users experience VR both developers and users will slowly discover what does and doesn’t work in making an effective virtual experience.
The real test for VR will arguably come after 2016, once the initial expectation for this innovative technology has died down and the novelty of being immersed in virtual worlds has worn off on users. Therefore, the most interesting question is whether VR will still feature so highly in predictions for 2017?