2016 seems to have brought with it the age of virtual reality (VR). It is by no means a new concept and its DNA can be traced back to the early history of cinema. Films like Lawnmower Man (1992) and The Matrix (1999) fuelled an interest in the possibility of being able to transport ourselves to a completely different world without actually travelling at all.
Strip away the technology for a minute and you are left with a concept that literally shoots straight at our imaginations. The fantasy is limitless, but 2016 is the dawn of accessibility at a consumer level. Smart phones can be used as three dimensional or ‘VR’ devices and recently computer hardware, required to drive more sophisticated devices such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, have dropped into the price range of the consumer mass market. Like it or not, in my opinion VR is here to stay.
So how can virtual reality effect events? First of all there are some fundamentals to understand.
Singular or collective experience
If you have seen or experienced virtual reality, it is more than likely something I would define as a singular experience. What I mean by this is that you have to experience it alone, wearing a headset and interacting with a pre designed digital environment or game. In reality whilst this is happening you are typically in a room full of people watching your progress within the game on a screen, but overall you are the only one who had the experience. A collective experience is when a group of people can simultaneously join the same digital environment independently, much like common online gaming.
Passive or interactive
Recently a fund raiser at the Museum of Modern Art used VR to transport the attendees to a village in Africa. The content could easily have been played onto screens in the event space, but wearing a headset floods the dominant senses and focuses the mind. The heightened feeling of reality is achieved because you are ‘separated’ from everything in the real world. The result was a much more emotive, personal, yet collective experience where for a few short minutes you feel as if you are seeing it first-hand. The result is a level of response deeper and more personal than any response attained from a screen projection.
Consider video conference calls for example, where you can actually sit in the ‘same room’ as a person in a different time zone. Attending a virtual exhibition, walking through a hall of digital stands, and interacting with other people who like yourself are in actuality sat at their desk on the opposite side of the world. So for the duration of the encounter you are stood next to each other surrounded by other people. Real, right?
What does the future hold?
As the technology develops I predict a merging of augmented and virtual reality. What if the digital exhibition was location specific? The room is real but the exhibitor is a digital presence. A keynote speaker presenting to an audience no longer requires a projection screen, because the information floats around them when viewed via a headset.
The level of the experience can vary, but I believe that the key to success is to make it as collective and interactive as possible. The day that it becomes common, global communication will feel a shock wave bigger than email. In 10 years’ time will the definition of face to face communication be the same, and will a meeting still involve shaking hands with one another?
Meetings and events thrive, because at present there is nothing better than standing in the same room as a colleague or client. Who’s to say the room has to be real?