First Times in the Vive

Jean-Pierre Chery helps Lisa Biagi get oriented to the Vive.

Last night in a former storefront turned event space on Capitol Hill, UI designer and CoMotion Labs tenant Jean-Pierre Chery hosted a Vive demo. It was an intimate, casual gathering that reminded me why I like the VR/AR community so much. JP set up two Vive stations and printed up menus of the experiences available. Cool people hung out drinking beer and wine and took turns with the headsets. I jumped in to kill zombies for a few minutes with the Brookhaven Experiment. Others swam with psychedelic jellyfish and fought robots.

I’ve had a few conversations with people this week about how wearing a Vive or other VR headset doesn’t make you look stupid. The Google Glass, a widely panned misfire of a consumer product, appeared so dweeb-orific because it looked like a pair of glasses with a miniature Kit Kat bar glued to one side. VR headsets, on the other hand, aren’t trying to look like anything besides what they are. When someone’s wearing a Vive, they just look like they’re living in the future.

Lisa in VR.

There were a few people at last night’s gathering who experienced VR for the first time. I’ve noticed that there’s a sort of ritual that happens when a Vive veteran orients a new user to the device. The new user puts on the headset, and the helper tells them that they’re going to put on the headphones. Then there’s the hand-off of the controllers, which appear to float before the user. I imagine this ritual being enacted all over the world.

VR is the first thing that truly feels native to the twenty-first century to me. Yes, it was envisioned as far back as the Nixon and Ford administrations, but it took a few decades to come to life in casual gatherings of curious tech enthusiasts in little rooms in a city on a Thursday night. Last night was just the kind of introduction to this technology that will make it spread like wildfire, as prices go down, experiences get even more compelling, and we grow more accustomed to trading one reality for another.