I hated virtual reality at first. Didn't like it at all.
Last year, I was working for a land developer client and they explained that they wanted to create a 360-degree spherical video in which local sports radio personalities gave the viewer a tour around a master-planned community. Obviously, Google Cardboard was, and still is, the most accessible way for your average adult to experience virtual reality, so we decided to design our project with that being our final screen.
When I got home from the meeting, I ordered a Cardboard headset via Amazon. It came two days later, and within a matter of minutes, I'd assembled it. It's literally a piece of cardboard, two lenses, and a velcro headstrap. You slide your phone into the headset and boom/voila — it's VR-ayyyy(song to the tune of "That's Amoré").
I was excited. Was this going to change my life? Was there a whole virtual world where things were happening that I was suddenly fall into and never come out of? Was I going to become a virtual reality-hermit and subsist on soylent and the indirect sunlight that came through my bedroom window?
Suffice to say, I expected to be immersed, as promised ad infinitum by the whole VR phenomenon.
Bravely, I stuck my phone into a piece of goggle-y shaped cardboard and strapped it to my head. I was wearing glasses and the headset smushed them uncomfortably, onto the bridge of my nose and right above my ears. Of course there was going to be a little pain involved in this giant leap into the first waves of the singularity.
I played with some of the apps I downloaded. I kept having to adjust my glasses. A Google museum app is the only one I remember.
The preeminent feeling from the whole experience was one of intense nausea. VR made me sick.
I mean, I didn't throw up, but I grew to unequivocally hate the Cardboard VR experience — the whole bit. It wasn't that the content and apps were lacking(though they were), and it wasn't just that Google Cardboard is extremely uncomfortable to wear for the four-eyed(I wear glasses, which I feel probably makes me look like more a nerd than I probably am — sometimes that's a positive).
Using Google Cardboard made me extremely nauseous. After about ten minutes and every single time. I tried to find solutions for about a week and finally gave up trying. Sometimes the nausea would last for the rest of the day. Somewhere I read that they don't let pilots fly for a day or two after using flight simulators, which are arguably a kind of VR experience.
Thankfully(/mercifully) the project we were working on went away, when it was realized that it would take at least $20,000 and 8 weeks to complete the dang thing. I actually got a bid from a big VR production company for $100,000-200,000. Way out of our budget but really fun for me to talk shop with a mammoth production company to get a price on what it would take for true-blue VR professionals to do what we were hoping to do. The reaction from the client when I told them the budget estimate was priceless.
After that experience, I was staunchly anti-VR. I wanted nothing to do with the medium. So much time, money, effort, just to create something that's going to make even a small percentage of users uncomfortable and sick? Why bother?
VR seemed, to me, dangerous, irresponsible, and way too much work. Leave it to the specialists, I thought.
Later that year, I attended a month-long hacker/maker workshop and I think there was a VR workshop just about every day. I stuck to my guns, and skipped them all.
Not that my presence was especially missed or anything, ha.
And so I kind of just forgot about VR. Another false promise from tech demimondes. Granted, all of my antipathy towards VR was rooted in a frustrating couple of weeks trying to do the impossible for a client, but it was enough to create an entirely negative impression of the medium. I forgot about VR for the rest of the year.
And then I became a part of NeuroScientific AfroFeminism.
You may ask, "Is it a movement? Is it a cult? WHAT ARE IT?"
Simply put, NSAF is a VR project that imagines a speculative future in which black women are the pioneers of brain optimization. The project was created by the five women who form the core of Hyphen-Labs: Ashley Baccus-Clark, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Ece Tankal, Nitzan Bartov, Michelle Cortese, with support from many others.
I came onboard the week before the project debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, helping out where I could, running errands, basically doing whatever tasks needed to be done so the artists on the project could focus on the art. Proud to say that, I eventually earned myself the title of Associate Producer on the project, although I did not go to Sundance.
In the course of working on NSAF, the creators invited me to user test the piece on the Oculus Rift and I was blown away. The experience was less than 10-minutes long but I didn't want it to end. It was a very comfortable, soothing, warm world that they'd created. I'd have been happy floating around in that relaxing virtual world for hours.
I won't try to describe the specifics of the work, but I will share several of the write-ups the project has gotten in the press at the end of this post.
Long story short, I was totally wrong about VR! And now I'm excited to participate in future VR projects! I even bought a VR-ready computer — I AM A BELIEVER I TELL YOU!
Now, I just have to decide which headset I'm going to put on my credit card.
It's a natural progression, I think. Documentary Filmmaker => "VR Experiencemaker"(not there yet but I'm hopeful). I see VR as another opportunity, another medium in which to display the moving image. In fact, Facebook — who purchased Oculus back in March 2014 — is funding the heck out of VR content makers. They're injecting $250 million into VR content creation this quarter alone.
I'm excited to be a part of this brave, new VR world.
NeuroScientific AfroFeminism made me believe.
Selected press about NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism: