Why You Should Pay Attention To VR: My Oculus Go Experience And The Fight To Preserve Freedom In A ‘Snow Crash’/‘Ready Player One’ Future.
After years of building interest about all things Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality too), I decided to make good on a promise to try the Oculus Go whenever Oculus decided to release it.
Having seen Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and read the much better Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash, I was primed to pick one up. Being a sci-fi author, I must pay attention to technological shifts to maintain some form of vision for what’s heading our way and maybe nudge it in the right direction.
What follows below is a hybrid review of the Oculus Go itself plus a discussion on the state of freedom inside VR under Big Tech’s panopticon. Feel free to skip around the different sections to hone in on what you want to know.
The TL;DR is the Oculus Go is a mixed bag and comes with plenty of controversy, mostly in the legal/privacy/free speech realms. It's also very sci-fi and fun.
Big Tech’s unsettling VR land grab.
This is where my biggest critique of VR exists.
What worries me most is Big Tech’s grip on this new VR real estate. There are nice places inside that mirror Snow Crash’s Metaverse or Ready Player One’s OASIS like AltspaceVR (owned by Microsoft). And, Oculus Rooms/Venues (owned by Facebook). They use all the usual SJW disclaimers about safe spaces, hate speech, using offensive language or behavior, etc. They have tools inside to block, mute or even ban you.
Given that Zuck had a hard time defining hate speech himself when Congress grilled him recently, this is troubling because being exiled from VR for thoughtcrimes is another way to exile someone from having a say, and a place, in the future. Some mix of VR and AR represent the next evolution of communication and computing and these Big Tech companies control it.
If I organized a regular meetup in AltspaceVR for fellow right wingers, would I be banned or punished in some way? Perhaps. What is certain is that we’d be monitored and recorded. There needs to be a decentralized version of AltspaceVR out there, as we sort of saw in Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
Without a lot of transparency or explanation, this Orwellian stuff is everywhere in VR. My guess is it will migrate to AR too, which in some ways is worse because AR exists partly in the real world. I’m just going to leave this creepy Microsoft recording disclaimer here. Please read it. Something tells me there’s a legal challenge in there, but I'm not a lawyer.
Can you use it without Facebook and still get a lot out of it?
Yes and no. You can count on Facebook/Oculus vacuuming up all kinds of data about you, even when they say don't. We all know better now. It is possible, though, to use the Go with only an Oculus account; this is what I decided to do. You miss out on some social intergrations, especially as they relate to Oculus Rooms (can’t use your own photos on the wall), or Oculus Venues where you can attend concerts, comedy shows, sportsball events (entirely unusable without Facebook).
Like many of you, I walked away from using Facebook in any consistent way yet still get utility out of the Go. A long list of Facebook "friends" to hang with in VR isn't required.
Weirdness with my eyes largely abated over time. Some blurriness around the edges of your field of view is normal and part of all current headsets. The sweet spot center is actually clear. You learn quickly to move your head, rather than your eyes, when you want to focus on something.
The nature of these headsets places a screen mere inches from your eyes that get filtered by specialized lenses. As someone with perfect 20/20 vision, I’m rooting for these lenses to protect my eyesight in a way that sunglasses filter out harmful stuff. About a month in, my eyesight is still fine.
The first couple of weeks felt strange and borderline uncomfortable. Yet, I’ve adjusted to it and it feels fine now. Though not heavy themselves, they do feel like beefier ski goggles. If you like to hit the slopes, you’ll likely adjust to wearing a headset more easily than others.
What apps/use cases are the most useful/fun so far?
Meetups/lectures. It’s a great tool for people scattered everywhere to hang out and feel a genuine sense of 3D presence. Hard to describe this until you experience it firsthand, but it is amazing and often hilarious. Lectures and those who give seminars will find this VR use case particularly interesting for their presentations, as you can run through a pitch deck and play videos for a crowd. I’ve attended talks by astronauts and watched SpaceX launches.
Movies/TV are great as long as you take breaks to charge the battery, rest your eyes/face. If you want, you can rest flat on your back and stream a lot of content from different providers, all on a big screen. My back sometimes barks at me and being totally flat is great. You can watch videos in many different settings too.
For instance, Plex has a drive-in theater, Hulu has a luxury condo, Netflix has a cozy ski cabin. Strangely, it makes the large TV I have in my living room seem small afterwards. A warped side effect of VR. One thing I did notice is you're more likely to hold your attention to whatever you're watching because there are no buzzing notifications and you obviously can't use your phone at the same time you're in VR. It's just you and what you're watching. In our attention-scattered era, this works nicely. You can also watch stuff in the same VR room with friends + family scattered across the world that have the Go.
There are games of all kinds. Social/multiplayer ones are the most fun. You are in the game. I have to say 360 degree immersion takes gaming to another level. A zombie shooter I played called Death Horizon had me looking around in all directions for surprises. Rush is a fun game where you fly down a mountainside in a wing suit. Anshar Online is a great space shooter. Deer Hunter VR takes me back to the days when I misspent time playing Buck Hunter at 7B in Alphabet City, NYC. Guided Meditation VR is a full blown meditation app that does a good job of putting your mind someplace else. Blade Runner 2049: Replicant Pursuit blew me away. There's even a public speaking app that simulates giving a speech in front of a crowd that I haven't tried yet.
Signing into sites is a pain if you have long, scrambled passwords like I do. You can’t dictate in text fields like you can with an Apple TV. It’s hunt and peck with the keyboard that floats in 3D. Password manager integration would be nice. Because it runs on Android and I live inside Apple’s walled garden, there’s no hope for people like me on that front. Gotta take the L.
Swiping around the Oculus Home interface has a Minority Report quality to it. Intuitive too. Plenty of YouTube videos out there will give you a tour of what it looks like. I'm terrible at resisting this kind of sci-fi novelty.
It has a browser where you can do just about anything you'd want on the Internet. Thus, it will at times feel like you've strapped a full blown computer to your face because that's exactly what you've done. This is very future. In fact, I depicted something close to this in my sci-fi actioner Trucker.
Battery life is shorter than one would hope, yet it’s not that big of a deal because many won’t keep it on for a full charge anyway. It’s not meant for very long multi-hour sessions. It also charges relatively quickly and you get in the habit of charging it after each use. It naturally stays in a standby mode when not in use and sips power in standby. This is a nice touch on Oculus's part because you can just slip it on and the proximity sensor instantly wakes it up once it senses your face.
The battery will die before you finish an entire 2+ hour movie. However, you’ll probably want to take at least one break in there, rather than marathoning through videos.
Oculus’s health + safety tutorials recommend taking breaks of 10-15 minutes in length every 30 minutes of use. That’s good advice, remains consistent with my experience.
One of my concerns is that strapping this thing to your head may be similar to having a conversation on a smartphone stuck to your head, in terms of radiation. I’m not an engineer, so I couldn’t tell you for sure and I don’t think they’ve published the radiation absorption limits, as smartphone manufacturers are required by law to do.
Your home’s WiFi is signal may be safer than what you get zapped with by your smartphone when you’re out and about though. I should note not everything you do with the Go requires an Internet connection.
It comes in 32 GB and 64 GB variants. If you’re going to pick one up, I’d recommend throwing down the extra 50 bucks for the 64 GB. 32 GB is nothing these days and these apps will keep coming and keep growing in size.