Calling TIME: Virtual Reality’s Uphill Struggle For Mainstream Approval

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.

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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.

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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.

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18 Comments

  1. What is he supposedly doing on the cover? Swimming or something?

    Reason I ask is because it looks like he is playing some kind of sex simulator with a (VR) guy stood either side of him!

    Not the best picture they could have chosen tbh.

    • Well done. You’ve spotted the flaw in VR. At best you look like an idiot. At worst? You look like you’re pleasuring a pair of invisible gentlemen. Which involves all the effort and none of the fun.

      This is why all this VR shenanigans needs to fail, and fail quickly. And if pictures like that help people realise how stupid it is, good.

      • you really want it to fail just coz you’re afraid of looking silly in your own home?? If you’re concerned that your friends/family will judge you for looking silly enjoying a vr game, then I can only imagine what those ignorant closed-minded people already think of you when you sit on your couch with your gamepad or at your desk with m+k playing “those silly kids video games”

      • There are plenty of other reasons it’s going to fail. The price, for a start. There’s no way anyone is going to do it at a sensible price for a good few years yet.

        And I suspect the games available (before they quickly dry up once it fails) are going to suffer from the same problems films have these days. They’re all available in 3D, even when it’s entirely unnecessary. And most of them are normal films converted to 3D afterwards, usually with poor results.

      • Not that evret’s comment was directed at me, but just to weigh in here – Personally, I don’t really care enough about it to have any feelings one way or another. I do however think that it’s another one of those ‘flash in the pan’ kind of things we see every generation, that people get really excited about for a while & then it sits gathering dust. Either because you don’t want to be up flailing your arms around all the damn time (see: Kinect/Wii), or just that people stop developing stuff for it (see: Kinect/Move/PSEye etc).

        Don’t get me wrong, I am all for options & innovation, but this sort of thing in particular isn’t for me. Wouldn’t damn it just for the sake of me not being into it though. That sentiment is reserved for Justin Bieber.

      • Just because something is stupid to you, it does not mean it’s stupid for everyone! I for one can not wait to experience VR first hand and I dont mind if my wife thinks i’m a bloody fool flailing about in my living, hell she might be converted after she tries it. You see that’s the thing you can’t just judge something by it’s cover, I have read all over the internet about people dismissing VR and as soon as they have spent 30 sec in it they are preaching to the masses!

        Have you tried VR MrYd? If you have well, I accept your personal opinion about VR after all it’s not going to be for everyone, but at the moment you sound like the equivalent of Mary Shelly’s pitchfork moron’s chasing down Frankenstein!

        You maybe be right about the pricing for the Oculus or Vive as apparently you will need a premium PC to deliver the best experience but Shu has stated the project Morpheus will be priced below the PS4.

      • Ignoring MrYd’s piss-taking, the actual mention of how things are perceived are HUGELY important. We’ve been born into a consumer-focussed society and also happen to be a visual species to-say-the-least.

        How the general public perceives VR is massively important because if it doesn’t accept that, it’s off to a rocky start straight away. Now, add to that particular issue that many people (including vast swathes of us gamers) cannot simply be bothered with the whole “headset thing” and it makes VR even more difficult as a commercially viable proposition.

        RudeA – your mentions of how much fun it can be is spot on. I don’t doubt that most (if not all) people who try them can’t wait to tell their friends about it but getting passed the above thorny hurdle (or two) is the crux of the matter.

        Technologically, we’re pretty much “there” but there’s so much more to it than just that. Perception is everything when it comes to looking into new hardware that may or may not grace our homes. There’s an obvious barrier/limit to what people are willing to entertain so they can be… well… entertained. :-)

      • @MrYd – you haven’t tried VR and that is why you are unable to understand

  2. It was always going to be a niche market at first. Just like gaming was once considered to be a hobby exclusively for nerds.

    When you think about it, this is no more ridiculous than the passion some people have watching grown men kick a ball round a field. Only that particular hobby is an extremely popular, socially acceptable one.

    Who cares if you look stupid doing the things you enjoy. You’d look even more stupid not doing them because you’re afraid what others might think.

    • I don’t think many people are against looking a bit stupid from time-to-time. I think it’s just that they feel like it’s so unnecessary to their enjoyment of a game.

      Gaming gained traction because of sheer numbers. Not sure VR will do the same.

      • Yep, pretty much this.

        Plus, how comfortable is it likely to be for extended play sessions? My guess would be not very. It seems to need to be quite tight to the head & after a period of time that extra weight (no matter how light it is, it’s still foreign weight) is going to become more & more apparent to the wearer.

        That aside, I can imagine a real sense of nausea setting in after a period of time, where your brain tells your body that what you are looking at – whilst feeling ‘real’ – is ultimately not & your body reacting accordingly.

        Again, I am all for new development & ideas, but this one certainly isn’t for me. Whether it will be for the rest of the populace remains to be seen.

      • To be honest, I think you personally need to try them first before jumping to conclusions.

        The Oculus is rather front heavy, granted, but there’s enough padding, the straps do distribute a lot of the weight further back, and it’s not really all that heavy. The built in earphones help to reduce the weight on your head too, because you don’t need a separate headset. Speaking of which, do you feel wearing a headset weighs your head down unduly? They’re often a few hundred grams…

        Morpheus is a little bit stranger, but possibly better in terms of weight distribution, as it puts it at the top of your forehead and back of your head and tries to hang the screen in front of your face. So perhaps that’s better for extended play times.

        As for nausea, that really depends on the game. Something where you’re in a cockpit, like a car or a plane, is much less likely to cause nausea than a first person shooter, while the HTC Vive actually places you into an environment through which you can get up and walk, much more like a holodeck. If the game is designed well in a genre that suits the capabilities of the headset, there’s no reason why the majority of people couldn’t play without nausea.

      • Oh, I know this isn’t for me – I have no interest in it whatsoever (same as I wasn’t interested in move etc), as it isn’t how I choose to enjoy my games. I just wanted to be involved in the debate & raise a few of the concerns I would have if I was for whatever reason interested.

        & yeah, I do feel the weight of my stereo headset after a while. After extended play sessions (2-6 hours or so?), I can definitely feel my neck bearing the brunt of the additional weight (again, albeit a small one) & whilst they are comfortable (certainly more than the last pair that I had that cut into my head at quite inconvenient places such as the temples), I do definitely feel the difference when I take it off. Like a weight has been lifted, if you will. The one that came with the ps4 isn’t so bad of course, but that is literally just an earbud a mic & a wire.

        Overall though, for me at least it comes down to one simple fact – I prefer my gaming to be on a tv with me sat in my comfy chair with a game pad. That’s as immersive as I need my gaming to be.

    • I have been gaming since pong on all platforms from the PC and Amiga to all of the consoles and the only thing that was ever considered being a nerd and a niche product was the virtual boy. So your first sentence has no meaning.

      Virtual realty fails for the same reason it has been failing through test in the Air Force, no real feedback, no reality. The brain fails to put it all together and instead of making task easy as it would be in real life the brain is asking why do I see movement but my body says I’m standing still. Instead of being natural and real it becomes even more artificial and unreal.

      Putting a screen up to your face and a controller in your hand is just lame. True VR has to be immersive with full tactile feedback otherwise you just have a small screen strapped to your head with poor 3d representation. Most people would rather play on a 24 inch monitor or a 70 inch 4k set.

      Until you get real VR you will look like someone who paid a lot of money to strap a cell phone or a small screen to your head and handed you a controller. That’s what makes you look like a nerd.

      • Well maybe nobody ever said anything to your face but behind your back they all thought you were a nerd :D

        I suppose it depends on what circles you associate with. If you hang out exclusively with other gamers then obviously you aren’t going to feel like a nerd. Its a common stereotype so I’m not sure why it’s so surprising to you.

        Older gamers in particular are often ridiculed or feel embarrassed to speak about their hobby in front of non gamers. I’ve seen it happen where I work with the older guys. Like they’re afraid they’ll be considered a man-child because they’re over 30 and still play video games. So what. My dads in his forties and he still plays video games.

        I think the problem is that a lot of people still view gaming as kids entertainment. That’s why you get so many braindead parents buying their 8 years old the latest COD for Christmas.

        Do what makes you happy I say.

      • It isn’t just ‘screens strapped to your face’. When you play a FPS at the moment you aim by looking at something, in VR you can look at something, whilst shooting in a different direction. VR affects the way you interact with games on a fundamental level that is very difficult to explain or understand until you have tried it. That is the real problem In trying to advertise it

  3. My biggest concern about VR is how long will i be able to use it for before i become dizzy or nauseous. That, and the obvious dangers of moving around an averagely-cluttered livingroom whilst essentially blindfolded.

    • I think that the most successfull VR games will be in a traditional sat down position or stood up little to no movement.

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