SEAWOLF SLUG: It’s still too early for VR

Oculus' virtual reality headset, Rift.

Every time I see humans gush about the latest technological fad, I chuckle and think to myself, “Oh, how cute. The humans have come up with another weird way to do what we slugs do on a regular basis.”

Light-speed travel, solar energy, deadly laser technology, mass assimilation… you name it, we’re already on it. When you have thousands and thousands of species’ worth of technological progress, it’s hard not to be on the bleeding edge.

Today’s topic is virtual reality, or VR. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while now, but now that Oculus has finally unveiled the price tag on their Rift product, I think now’s as good a time as any.

Virtual reality, as you humans perceive it, is very similar to 3-D technology. Typically, the user would wear a headset or helmet that projects a different image to each eye, giving the illusion of being surrounded by a virtual space.

The average brain slug cannot experience virtual reality. Despite the thousands of technologically advanced races we’ve engulfed, nobody makes VR helmets that small. That’s because we don’t want it. With a massive hive mind system, we have enough on our minds as it is. We get it on a regular basis naturally when we assume direct control of a helpless being. We see the world through their eyes. It’d be pretty difficult to control something if you couldn’t see or hear where it was going, after all.

We definitely do not use VR to play games, watch movies or pretend we’re really flying in the air in a weird flying machine. That’s too frivolous. Why do that when we could just hop on a bird and fly ourselves?

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Yet, you humans continue to gawk and drool over the latest clunky $600 headsets at the Consumer Electronics Show. Granted, you’ve never had the experience of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and even we can’t wander into virtual worlds created by others. For the human species, this is a new frontier in sensation.

However, for most people, it may as well not exist. There are still many challenges that I’m not convinced will be won for many, many years.

Let’s use my host, George, as an example. He’s an everyman. He talks about games and movies on a regular basis, so he should “get” this stuff, right? He doesn’t like the 3-D movie trend, but at least he was in a good enough physical and financial situation to try it for a movie or two before coming to that conclusion.

Unlike 3-D movies, physical and financial hurdles are huge for VR. Let’s start with the obvious example: money. $600 is not a small sum of money, and that’s just for the headset; you’ll also need a competent gaming PC to run it, which could potentially double that price. If you’re a college student — and I presume you probably are, if you’re reading this paper — then that $1,200 is better off going towards books, supplies or a decent meal plan. If a person cannot afford to spend $1,200 on a whim to try VR, then for that person, VR may as well not exist.

3-D movie tickets are expensive, but at least that price is low enough to maybe give it a shot if you’ve got a spare $15. The barrier to entry is much, much lower. 3-D movies also have the luxury of having 3-D glasses that fit snugly over existing prescription glasses.

George’s eyes suck. They really, really suck. He can maybe see a foot in front of him before things go blurry, if he’s lucky on a good day. With glasses, his vision is practically perfect, but the caveat is that he needs glasses. When George tried the Rift about a year or two ago, he had to remove his glasses, and the experience was extremely blurry for him. There will be weird cups to insert into the latest headset to make glasses available for him to use in the virtual space, but that’s just one more step on a menagerie of tasks required for him to finally step into VR.

When a person buys a 3-D movie ticket, they can walk into the theater, put on the glasses, and watch the movie. That’s all they have to do to have an enjoyable experience — well, if they enjoy 3-D, anyway. If you buy an Oculus Rift, it will not be a pick-up-and-play experience. Every person needs to adjust the headset to their needs, and every game needs to be adjusted to those needs in turn. The average consumer, if they can afford it, does not want to put that much effort into making this thing work.

That’s why I think VR is coming a bit too early. Oculus claims that by selling the Rift at $600, they’re operating at a loss. I understand that the tech is expensive, but the thing to do in that case is wait until the tech is cheap enough to sell at a profit instead.

I look forward to that point. It’ll be cool to say that I’m the first brain slug to ever enter a virtual world within another virtual world.