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Virtual reality is not just another screen

Ola Björling, Head of VR, MediaMonks.
Ola Björling, Head of VR, MediaMonks.

While VR is its infancy, how do we nurture the medium to maturity, without getting stuck comparing it to its siblings? In this piece MediaMonks' Head of VR Ola Björling explores how VR can be built up to be a truly ground breaking medium, rather than judging it as a medium by what's already been done.

You've probably heard it by now: VR is in its infancy, both technically and conceptually. While that's true, just because your vocabulary will get better in the future it doesn’t mean you have nothing to say today. Even with today’s technology, VR as a medium already holds the potential for wondrous, enthralling and exceptionally memorable experiences that were literally impossible just a couple of years ago. So while the future will perpetually hold the promise of greater things, we already have tools that we could spend a lifetime exhausting the potentials of.

As progress inevitably eats away at the technological obstacles to realizing the ultimate VR experiences, we need to be aware of all the other limitations, the ones created by our perception and expectation of the medium. Us humans are creatures of habit, seeing everything new in light of what we already know. This is why so many people keep hammering square pegs of media past into the round holes of VR. This inability to shed old preconceptions will yield inferior content no matter the technology.

An example of this is how even thinking of an experience in VR as a "story" can be backwards: A story is the retelling or re-enactment of something that happened to someone else in the past, while VR is happening to you, in the present. The use of the word story shows how even our language to describe the medium anchors us conceptually in something that VR isn’t: This medium taps into the core of human existence, to consciousness itself, which is something that goes far beyond conveying a story. That is not to say narrative is inherently incompatible with VR, but rather that it needs to be reconsidered. More than being the story, VR enables the experiences that become the stories.

In all preceding mediums, where suspension of disbelief and the user’s imagination have been key to absorbing the narrative, we’ve grown accustomed to bridging the gap between the viewer and the frame of the screen by overloading the narrative in dialogue, pacing, acting, sound and everything else. We’ve gotten so used to this, we barely realize it, until we see the same thing done in VR where it becomes an undecipherable cacophony, providing only confusion where we sought immersion. With VR it’s no longer about interpreting, it’s a direct first-hand experience.

Imagining the new and unexplored in terms of what has been done before, in other mediums, is an efficient way of ensuring you're not going to be the one to creates the game or experience that only VR can convey. It will be those who possess the rare combination of an unusually open mind and discerning critical thinking who are the first to see and understand VR’s true potential. Judging VR as a medium by what’s been done so far is to judge film based on "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat," but the comparison to film ends there. This train will go further.

The Virtual Reality Report

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