First Thoughts on VR

Last week I read Jaron Lanier's Dawn of the New Everything. And today I took delivery of an Oculus Quest, my first VR headset.

I don't want to belabor too much this transition in my attitude other than to say that I was previously uninterested, and then I was introduced to some new ways of thinking about the experience. And now I am interested.


From the word go, I was put off by the social experience on the Oculus Quest. It immediately asks you to login with Facebook, and the initial first party social experiences are all Facebook branded Facebook Facebooks with Facebook.

Look: I don't care about my private data. I've lost that fight. But I do care deeply about my social connections. I don't want Facebook to manage them.

I will probably lose this fight in the long run if the Quest takes off. I can't stand athwart history, after all. But I will call my representative and urge them to take antitrust action against Facebook. Putting on a headset is a step into a new and mysterious technological interface, and an exciting entrepreneurial opportunity for those who designed and built it.

The experience of having those moments sullied by deep linkage with an enterprise whose connection with VR is, frankly, more philosophical than technical, does not excite the imagination with vistas of new opportunity. It is like setting foot in Disneyland: goodbye, cruel world!

VR as VR

VR is fake. You can tell it's fake! At no point did I ever forget that I was in a virtual experience.

And that's great!

My favorite parts of the VR experience interacted with its boundaries, its fakeness. The Quest has you define a virtual space to inhabit by drawing a boundary line on the ground. Testing this space is neat!

Even better, when you lean out of it, you get a black and white version of the real world around you to interact with. I loved this, too; it enhanced the artifice of the experience.

Do VR games feel empty?

When I play Seiken Densetsu 3 on my Switch, I'm sitting in my own two feet in a world where I know there are people out there. I can't be bothered to go visit them, but they're there. When I play Beat Saber, though, I'm utterly alone.

Who wants to be alone?

I'm sure that richer, more narrative experiences will not feel quite so intensely that way. But will they still have that loneliness? I can't imagine they won't; a movie doesn't make one feel lonely, but it doesn't strive for the same artifice. We'll see.


I didn't do much. I played the demo level of Beat Saber, which was fun. I downloaded a VR chat app, but didn't fire it up yet.

In the long run, I am most interested in interactivity in the space. Can I make it dynamic? Can I program within it? Can I interact with other people?

I'm not sure I'll get a happy answer to all these questions. And to be honest, I'm not the kind of person who runs around programming all the time, anyway. I program to do things I want to do.

But hey: we'll see what happens. It's a hell of a lot more invigorating of a distraction than playing Switch. I just hope it's not too distracting.