Circulation may be on the downturn for TIME magazine, yet the high-brow weekly still acts as a cultural portal for many Americans, even boasting a small foothold here in the UK. Having only just stepped away from a year’s subscription I can tell you that TIME has opened my eyes to a plethora of enlightening world debates, covering topics from the nefarious “dark web” to drone strikes, the Euro debt crisis, and transgender equality.
Like any long-running publication, TIME hasn’t always hit the mark and occasionally finds itself in the midst of controversy. That said, it’s still held as an institution in the world of print journalism, delivering a weekly dose of grounded dispatches and insightful commentary.
But why all this talk about a magazine? I hear you ask. Well, as we all know, a new horizon slowly approaches, promising a landmark change in way we interact with media. Of course, this impending innovation is virtual reality and as we approach the launch of Oculus Rift, Vive, Gear, and other VR platforms, the mainstream media will start paying attention.
This so-called “next level” for gaming features on the cover of this week’s TIME magazine. However, this step into the public view has seen VR take a bit of a tumble – depending on your own perspective. Within the latest issue’s familiar red borders stands a rather awkward Palmer Luckey against a tropical backdrop. Unavoidably, there’s an Oculus Rift strapped to face and it all looks a bit silly. The kind of silly that is usually reserved for internet memes.
Predictably, being the outspoken bunch we are, many gamers have taken the cover image and the contents of the issue as an insult. Despite doing a pretty decent job of explaining what virtual reality is and its perceived impact on the future of entertainment media, the tone of what TIME prints isn’t likely to break down walls between “nerds” and their mainstream readership. As Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann puts it, the TIME cover “unloads” a “full clip into VR’s chances for mainstream acceptance.”
It’s important to remember, however, that TIME doesn’t necessarily represent everyone despite its reach. According to the magazine’s own audience profile, the average reader is aged 49 with most having gone to college or university. On top of that, the median household income of this group stands at just over $70,000, with more than a third of readers exceeding $100,000 per annum.
Even if TIME somehow managed to turn its shrinking pool of high income readers off the prospect of VR, it’s hardly the public execution some will have you believe.
We also have to look at the cold hard facts of virtual reality itself and the inevitable amalgam of dumb peripherals that will come in tow. Moan about the cover all you like, but as soon as we strap these innovative pieces of tech to our faces and start flailing, we’ll look dafter than Palmer Luckey without even trying, and it’s quite likely that we’ll feel daft as well.
How VR will be brought into the mainstream is a fascinating topic and one we’ve theorised in our minds for quite some time. It might have the potential to convincingly transport you to a different world and immerse you fully within a game, but it’s still not entirely clear how VR can be pitched and sold to your everyday punter and break out of its niche, given its high cost, space demands and prevailing image problem. Certainly, there are better ways to do it than with TIME’s meme-baiting cover.