Virtual Reality - The Challenges We Face - Part 3
If you haven't already, I highly recommend you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series! Otherwise, enjoy!
Virtual Reality may seem like an inevitable step for those of us in the tech and entertainment sector, but it has an issue with perception in the public's eye. For this blog, I want to talk about the perception I had prior to my time in VR, and how many consumers see VR today. All over the world, designers have been figuring out new best-practices, but on this trail of discovery we have left nauseous users, traumatized participants, and misinfomation in our wake.
Our pranks and poor design practices have really affected public perception of this new technology. Let's talk about how it happened, and what we can do to correct the issue.
Do you remember when videos of people reacting to VR were making the rounds last year? There are countless compilations and remixes of people getting pranked in VR. Many people's first impressions of VR came from videos like this.
What are the odds of that guy buying an Oculus Rift any time soon?
While wearing a VR Headset you are blind and often deaf to the real world around you. This sensory deprivation makes it easy for would-be pranksters to really traumatize people. In a time when VR Headsets are relatively exclusive and hard to reach for most consumers, we shouldn't be showcasing this kind of activity. Not only does it ruin the individuals first impression of VR, but also wards off others from trying VR at public demos or among friends.
In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned my first experience with VR made me nauseous. Part of this was caused by the headset, I believe it was an Oculus Dev Kit, but moreso this was caused by the poorly designed experience. It was Team Fortress 2, with VR headset integration slapped on it!
Simulation Sickness is a side effect of some VR experiences. Originally discovered and coined as "Simulator Sickness" when pilots spent too much time in digital flight simulation programs. This has morphed over time to become "Simulation Sickness", "VR Sickness", "Cybersickness", etc. Ultimately it manifests as;
- Eye Strain
- Difficulty Focusing
- Increased Salivation
- Blurred Vision
- Stomach Awareness (pre-vomit)
Studies show that pilots that adapt to one simulation are susceptible to Simulator Sickness from a different simulation. As each game, film, and experience is a unique 'simulation' this can potentially be a huge issue for users.
VR Hardware can contribute to Simulation Sickness
- Inaccurate or Lagging Tracking (GearVR, Google Cardboard, PlayStation VR) - High Persistence Display (Any non-OLED smartphone)
- Low/Inconsistent Frame Rate (GearVR, PlayStationVR, Poor CPU Optimisation) - Screens Close to the Face (All VR Headsets)
- Large Field of View (All VR Headsets) - Fixed Focal Distance (All VR Headsets) - Heat and Weight (All VR Headsets)
Finally, our design philosophies and best-practices in game development and film are flipped sideways in VR. The nausea is a product of VR's perception trickery failing to convince our biological functions. The inner ear is a huge factor in this. When the brain anticipates movement, or acceleration but the inner ear is not registering motion, the brain goes haywire!
Here are a few quick rules for VR Design:
1. The users head IS the camera - Do not take control away from the user and move the camera! Ignoring this rule leads to nausea at best, and THIS at worst.
2. If you have movement, reduce the field of view. There are several experiences now that are doing this by using letterboxing or using diegetic interfaces to conceal motion. Eve Valkyrie uses the interior of the starship to reduce the field of view.
3. Treat in-game avatars like real bodies. In video games, players don't notice that their avatar is jumping 2-3x higher or running 10x faster than they can in real life. In VR, these affordances really stand out!
There are many other things to be aware of. I may dedicate an entire blog series to VR design down the road!
In summary, we have not done a very good job preventing and explaining nausea to consumers. Many people suspect that either some people do and others don't get nausea from VR. I'm sure there are people out there who will get nauseous every time, but for the vast majority of users, VR is only as nausea inducing as the simulation itself.
Those of us working in the VR space need to be particularly mindful of this, and actively work to avoid perpetrating simulation sickness. Once a potential customer gets burnt using VR, that can be a really difficult stigma to overcome!
This article has gone on long enough, but I'll briefly mention an issue I'm seeing now. When I talk to a people who haven't used VR before, they seem to have these ideas that they can provide Holodeck style experiences. Where they could use VR to virtually change cloths and see themselves in different outfits, or run a marathon. The technology behind VR is certainly incredible, but we aren't living on Star Trek's Enterprise yet.
When I'm onboarding people to VR for the first time, I'm very clear about the experience they're about to have. I also teach them the contraints and strengths of the device they're using. In this way we're ensuring that more people are better informed, and that they have an idea of what's realistic for the medium.
All of the issues I've talked about in this article revolve around perception. Hopefully over time we can employ better design and learn better ways to represent and talk about this new technology.
Thanks for reading!