Watching people use the virtual reality booth at the old Beatties store in Leicester as a child, I was amazed by what technology could do and what would come next. The potential to experience different worlds was mind blowing and seemed incredibly futuristic. Despite rapid advances in technology, virtual reality has remained part of science fiction films such as Tron and The Matrix, rather than a feature of everyday life. 

Having attended the IPA’s review of SXSW Interactive 2016 and purchased a basic viewer, it’s clear that virtual reality is set to become much more common very soon.

Ranging from the cheap Google Cardboard (£10 to make your smartphone into a very basic VR device) to the much more expensive HTC Vive (several thousand pounds when combined with a high power PC, for an immersive VR experience focused at gamers), there are a variety of options for people to experience virtual reality at home. The more basic implementations aren’t perfect but their accessibility gives a glimpse at what will be possible.

Don’t think it’s just for kids (and grown up kids) who love games though. Whilst the gaming industry is the biggest and most visible driver of virtual reality technology, there are numerous other applications for the technology appearing all the time. Here are some great examples to check out virtual reality with your viewer:

Google Cardboard
Simple demos from Google that help show some of what is possible using the basic virtual reality viewers designed to work with a smartphone.

Guardian 6 x 9
This moving example shows what it’s like to experience solitary confinement in an American prison. This use of virtual reality builds empathy, allowing the Guardian to make their point much more strongly and build support for their campaign.

An app with several beautiful and moving 360 degree videos. It’s hard to pick as there are so many fantastic videos but be sure to check out The United Nation’s “Clouds over Sidra” and The Click Effect.

Watch the videos mentioned above and you’ll appreciate how virtual reality leads to far more powerful feelings than when viewed in a different format. Being able to bestow such profound feelings on a viewer is something to be taken seriously though. Whilst some of the examples shown above build empathy with the viewer to make an important point, people can easily be terrified by scary experiences too. To help developers produce apps with content that doesn’t go too far or give viewers motion sickness, Oculus (creators of the Oculus Rift, another very popular virtual reality device and now owned by Facebook) have drawn up basic virtual reality guidelines.

Virtual reality offers huge potential but striking the right note and not relying on gimmicks will be key to successful implementation. Undoubtedly virtual reality is very cool and very exciting, but be warned, it’s not possible to look cool spinning around on the spot, whilst grinning with a cardboard box attached to your head.

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