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Tripping Down a Virtual Reality Rabbit Hole

“I’m a real proponent of being careful how we use it, because immersion is not free,” said Jeremy Bailenson, the director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, a research center for virtual reality experiences. “Immersion comes at a cost. It takes you out of your environment, it’s perceptually taxing at times, and it’s not something that we can use the way we use other media, for hours and hours and hours a day.”


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This is going to sound like the tech-nerd version of one of those first-person People magazine essays about surviving adversity: You don’t appreciate how much you need to see your hands until you can’t.

A representative for Oculus told me that one of its goals was to add more parts of your body to the simulation, so that you don’t feel as if your mind and your limbs are in two different worlds. Later this year, Oculus will release a pair of touch-sensitive controllers. When you carry these into a virtual world, as I did during a recent demo at Facebook’s headquarters, you can see a representation of your hands in virtual space, and the controllers let you manipulate digital objects in a way that feels remarkably real.

In Oculus’s demo room, I threw three-point shots in basketball, repeatedly punched a guy (and took some punches) in an unruly hockey game and passed some digital toys back and forth with an Oculus employee who was also wearing a headset.

Compared with the lonelier, hands-free version of Oculus now shipping, the hands-on demo offered less of a split between what my body was doing in the real world and what my eyes were seeing in the virtual one.

Not sure how I feel about this. 

Could turn into a glorified, in-depth version of video games?

Yes but doesn't that take away from living real life?

But then you don virtual reality goggles, and your hands disappear. So does the rest of the world around you. You are bereft, and it is very, very unsettling.

This sounds obvious: The whole point of virtual reality is to create a fantasy divorced from the physical world. You’re escaping the dreary mortal coil for a completely simulated experience: There you are, climbing the side of a mountain, exploring a faraway museum, flying through space or getting in bed with someone way out of your league.

But in many ways, the simulation is too immersive. After spending a few weeks with two of the most powerful V.R. devices now on the market, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. I suspect that V.R. will be used by the masses one day, but not anytime soon. I’m not sure we’re ready to fit virtual reality into our lives, no matter how excited Silicon Valley is about it.

Just seems too escapist. 

How so?

I could see getting addicted to the virtual, giving up on the real. 

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