Geeking Out: Could Facebook taint the future of virtual reality?

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff writer Published:

Since the days of Atari more than 40 years ago, many have tried over the years to create virtual reality that effectively tricks a person's brain into seeing, hearing and effectively believing what someone else wants them to -- and many have been on the right track, many others have failed abysmally (think Nintendo's poorly executed Virtual Boy of the mid '90s).

The Oculus Rift is potentially the world's first hardware to really get virtual reality right. The rectangular, pocket-planner-sized device affixes to a person's head and ears, transporting its user into a truly 3D world seen through head tilts and swivels just as though you were there yourself. Investors have tripped over themselves to get in on the action with more than $90 million raised for research and development through online fundraising -- effectively making it one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever.

When I was younger, I used to build makeshift forts with blankets and floor pillows around the TV, my cushiony fortress blocking all light and sound that could penetrate my fantasy world and bring it crashing back to reality. Needless to say, I'm ecstatic to see what the OR could accomplish 20 years removed from pathetic attempts into creating a more virtual world.

Even though the OR isn't intended to be used exclusively for video games, Facebook's recent acquisition of the OR for an estimated $2 billion has created concern for folks like myself marveling at the device's possibilities for gaming. And while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg says the OR's plans for gaming won't be compromised, and that he sees the potential for the OR going into the future, I can't help but shake the feeling the social media magnate is going to somehow ruin gamers' virtual reality messiah. It feels like corporate America getting its bottom-line-driven hands on technology that we thought was made just for us. That same reason is why some of the OR's Kickstarter donors have even suggested asking for their money back, implying they saw their money going toward an independent developer and not a wealthy corporate giant.

Does social networking really NEED virtual reality? Is this just a way for the company to diversify its interests, and we having nothing to fret about? Is anyone truly anticipating a social media world where we actually "see" ourselves walking around the Internet, interacting with our friends and family? If you're playing a video game, that's part of what you're naturally trying to escape, right? Granted, the OR has potential for much more, including unlimited training and educational opportunities -- some screenshots show a practicing "surgeon" working with a patient's organs. And while the possibilities are admittedly exciting regardless and unlock great potential for our interactions with each other across the globe, lets hope the OR's newest investor doesn't lose sight of the device's original purpose: gaming and entertainment.

The video below shows Adam Savage (of Mythbusters) testing out the Oculus Rift a couple months back with an initial kit.

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