It is starting with games, games are a great fit, and the games are going to be awesome. But it will become huge through immersive sports, immersive music, and most importantly, immersive storytelling.
Why? Because regardless of technology by far the most popular entertainments are ones that people can enjoy passively. Many more people regularly watch sports than play sports. Many more people enjoy music performances than play music. Many more people read books, watch TV, and go to the movies than play video games.
But why is VR such an advance for these experiences? Because all these things to some degree take us out of our normal existence and transport us to a different world. Anyone who has tried the primitive 360-degree experiences available on the Oculus Rift or Gear VR knows that Virtual Reality takes this to the next level.
With VR you will be able to get a court-side seat at a basketball game without leaving your home. In a very real sense VR with presence will make it feel like you are there. It won’t be the same as going to the game because there is so much more about going to a game than being at the game. Going to a game is a social outing, and social outings will remain. But it will be at an entirely different level than watching on TV.
VR will transport you to the concert arena where you can experience an awesome concert complete with fully immersive lighting, pyrotechnics, lasers, etc. For music VR also gives something more–the ability to be up-close with the greats in a way that is just not possible for the vast majority of us in the real world.
Storytelling has been the killer app for human entertainment throughout history. Storytelling is fundamentally about transporting us to other worlds. Plays, books, cinema, and TV all do this. Using VR you can be with David Attenborough anywhere in the world as he unfolds nature’s story. You can go into things, even at microscopic scale. Or at larger scale Brian Cox can weave a tail of the stars while you float in space next to an exploding supernova.
But these real worlds are just the tip of the iceberg. Peter Jackson could take us into Middle Earth. Not just seeing it through a window, but actually being immersed in it with splendor of Rivendell unfolding on all sides. With presence you will really feel like you are there. Imagine Gollum creeping up behind you. Or raising your head up to see Barad-dûr towering its immensity with the eye of Sauron burning its gaze upon you. This will happen. You will be there. It will be awesome.
It is coming…
There are many technical and creative challenges ahead–especially when it comes to storytelling. We don’t yet know the best way for stories to unfold when the listener/viewer/experiencer is immersed in the world of the story. Transformative technologies are like this–the first movies were essentially filmed plays. But we quickly understood how to use moving pictures to tell stories and we will do the same with VR.
Also, the social aspect has to be incorporated, and we don’t really know how to do that yet. I want to go to the game with my friends, but exactly what that means remains to be seen.
Despite these issues things are moving fast. Very fast. The universe is about to expand. In a very real sense we are about to enter the age of the multiverse–virtual universes will start popping into existence and we all get to visit them. Sit back and enjoy. You will be awed.