It is vacation time and the first thing you do is turn on your out-of-office reply before heading out the door. You pack your suitcase, multiples if you have kids, load the car, drive several hours, and check-in to a hotel to sleep in a bed that is not nearly as comfortable as your own. You do all of this for the experience. Sitting on a beach and not being distracted, riding a roller coaster that is not available in your back yard, or hiking to a view you have never seen before is worth all the effort because you have entered a place different than you see everyday.
The current state of Virtual Realty is similar. You wait for your delivery time, unpack and set up the six pieces of hardware, charge the batteries, and plug-in five power cords and two other cables into your machine. Then, you walk through the tutorial and get every thing set. You do all of this for the experience. To go somewhere you could not otherwise go. It’s like riding in a racecar that is much faster than the car in your driveway or being transported to a time not your own. All the effort is worth it because you can enter a place different than you see everyday.
Though the current state is somewhat cumbersome with setup and the fact the user is tethered to a machine, it is still an immersive and interesting experience. An environment comes to life and you feel transported into the narrative being shared.
On occasion, the immersion is broken due to limited space or a pull on the cord of the headset but keeping with the vacation analogy, it is like when my phone vibrates when I am at dinner with my beautiful wife. I know it happened but I choose not to check it and I engage right back into the conversation.
As creators and storytellers we can use this to our advantage. The fact that users have small annoyances from the actual world inside the virtual world actually makes it acceptable for everything not to be perfect in our virtual environment. The user is aware they are in a virtual world yet they are reminded of it on many occasions. They begin to filter those annoyances out increasing their suspension of disbelief. Now, that does not mean we need to create sloppy work that ignores best immersion practices, but it means we can get away with it a little while as we advance the story and craft.
I have been alpha testing a game/story for VR that has lots of flaws, mistakes and issues. Despite my role of searching for bugs and critiquing the story, I still find myself caught up in the virtual world and story so when I take off my headset, I sometimes feel like I am just waking up from an intense dream.
Journalist and storytellers at every level, especially local and regional publishers, need to be experimenting, practicing and advancing narrative stories and experiences in Virtual Reality. When newspapers started publishing videos on the web, much of it looked like bad TV but over time a new story formed — the web documentary. It was developed to become a strong way to tell stories to a mobile audience. Just because there is some bad weather one day at the beach does not mean you will never return. It is acceptable to make mistakes in an effort to advance storytelling in Virtual Reality.