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Is Social Media the Future of VR?

While VR was popularized as a tool for creating new and exciting video game experiences, major companies are looking to push it in a new, more socially-oriented direction.

Two days ago, a report from WIRED spoke about a joint effort by Facebook and Oculus to amp up this push for using VR as a tool for social interaction. On May 30th, a concert show in the Red Rocks Amphitheater filled up to watch a performance by Australian Singer-Songwriter Vance Joy. But the venue was not restricted by its physical space, as many other viewers also joined the show through their VR HMDs (Head-Mounted Displays). These people had paid for virtual tickets via the Oculus Venues app, and also got to experience a full VR panoramic view of the entire show. And while live viewings through VR is something that has been possible since 2015, the offering this time is a much more complete experience. The VR viewers will no longer be confined to a single camera or angle like a regular customer who bought a seat might be; instead, they’ll have the ability to travel between multiple seats at will, and even use voice interaction to speak directly with other VR event-goers. They can also choose to escape from the bustling VR crowd, and move to a private viewing box if they so choose.

But this VR viewing platform has gone through a number of failed iterations before it got to what it is today. Mike Lebeau, a software engineer from Oculus’ first European office, shares some details on the three things that ‘make’ a VR social experience: Familiarity (Whether the VR people interacting know each other in the real world), Symmetry (Whether the people interacting are in the same virtual space), and Synchronicity (Whether those interacting are experiencing the same thing at the same time).

Creating a platform with just Symmetry and Synchronicity was plenty for many events, according to Lebeau:”Going to a concert or a sporting event or a tech talk or a movie—these are all things where you gather around people you don’t know, but it’s not about the people you don’t know. Yet, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun if it was just me alone. They’re adding to the vibrance.”

If you don’t want to be in the crowd, you can opt for a solo viewing area. If you want to be in a crowd, Lebeau and his team have designed a virtual coliseum-style seating area that you can use to interact with others. And while you can’t freely move around the structure, you can teleport between seats and angles, which gives a comparable feeling of free movement while putting significantly less strain on one’s system.

This sense of vibrance is much more real and far more intimate than any sense of vibrancy one might get while communicating with another person over text, voice, or video call. And while this aspect of increased interaction can certainly help grab and hold a crowd, the “realness” of it also introduces additional problems.

For some, hearing mean comments online is nothing new, and something that can be shut down more easily than the same occurrences in real life. But when the virtual world becomes almost indistinguishable from the real world, you start to encounter much bigger problems. Facebook head of Social VR Rachel Rubin Franklin admits that this is an issue the company can no longer ignore. Franklin states that receiving a mean text message might not faze a user, and certainly wouldn’t make them want to never use that phone again. “But if you go into an app and somebody has physically gotten in your face and abused you, you’re gonna throw your headset across the room and never pick it up.”

To tackle this, Oculus requires that everyone using the Venues app login using their own Facebook accounts. This will decrease the power of anonymity granted by digital interactions, making every person just a little bit more accountable for their actions.

Featured Image Via Flickr / The People Speak!


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