VR is on its way to becoming mainstream, but until it does, until we all intuitively understand its language – its shorthand and conventions – the way we do with the language of film – it can be hard to grasp what exactly Virtual Reality brings to the table. Sure, it looks great, but what is it… for?
There’s a vague desire to connect it to existing media, to think of it like video games, or like 3D movies, or some sort of hybrid. And in so doing, we mentally pigeonhole it with those other media, assuming it has similar benefits and limitations, that it’s essentially them, but with a twist.
But those comparisons don’t really capture what VR does or what it can do. And so, for those not yet familiar with the technology, we’d like to offer some insight into its potential, starting with the actual experience of being in a virtual environment.
While movies and TV provide a window into a new reality, VR drops you right in the middle. There is no screen. There is no frame. Everything around you on all sides belongs to this digital reality. Even you – yes you – are digital! Hold your hand in front of your face and what you see is not your physical hand, but a digital double, one that can interact with this world.
The world you find yourself in may be simple or detailed, stylised or realistic, but it is novel and (assuming the designers have done their job well!) engaging. It invites exploration and experimentation. And it is as close to distraction-free as we’re likely to find today.
Just about every form of media out there comes with a risk of distraction. Most of us have at some point scrolled on our phones while “watching” TV, giving neither our full attention. With VR, that’s not really an option. When you put on your headset, the virtual environment fills your entire field of view. There is no glancing at your phone or checking the clock on the wall without removing that headset.
To be fair, this level of immersion comes with some limits and considerations. The headset leaves you effectively blinded to the physical world, so you will need to ensure that you wear it in a safe environment.
If you move in the VR world, make sure you have the space to move in the physical. Even for seated experiences, it’s important to make sure that the area around you is clear so that a gesture in the virtual world doesn’t knock over your very physical coffee cup!
The result is a more focused experience, one where multitasking is simply not an option, and one that contrasts sharply with our attention-craving modern world.
This feature particularly stands out in VR training exercises. Paired with the interactive nature of VR, this makes for a course that holds attention and produces rapid learning.