This may be obvious, but since VR is a 3D experience it is challenging to describe it. Most basically, VR utilizes a headset (like oversized googles) that blocks out the participant’s world and replaces it with a visual, auditory, and even sensory (via handsets that buzz) experience. you feel like you are “in” the VR experience: when you move your hands (and move the hand controllers), “your” virtual hands move; when you push buttons on the hand controller, your virtual hand will grasp an object, point and other movements(this takes some practice); when you move your head to the left, the visual field moves with you; when you take a step forward, the visual field moves with you (you have to be careful as it is common for VR beginners to walk into objects in their real environment). When you climb, fly or otherwise move to a higher point in the VR world, you look down and see a different perspective – an experience that can be so intense that people who are afraid of heights have used VR to work on their fear.
Most of the VR “worlds” that I have experienced using the Oculus Genesis are, frankly, kind of artificial. For example, one of my favorite experiences is Ocean Rift (a strange name until you realize that the previous version of the Oculus Genesis was Oculus Rift). In this environment, you are underwater in an ocean and experience a variety of ocean life, such as whales, sea snakes, manatees, and, the most fun, in my opinion, porpoises. The animals look incredibly real, but the background is often underwater scenes with coral, rocks, and even sunken boats – all of which look like they are made of plastic. It all is colorful, detailed, and fun – but also not real, fake.
Overall, however, the VR experience is remarkably effective in creating alternate worlds that are vivid, engaging, and entertaining.
The best way, I believe, to share the VR experience is with videos. The Genesis makes it easy to share and record VR experiences (probably so gamers can share their gaming triumphs), so I will share a few brief clips of my experiences. Of course, the videos you will see are 2D and require that you imagine what they would be like in 3D. I will add some comments that hopefully will help with this.
First, when you turn on the Genesis you find yourself in one of several virtual environments, which is sort of your home screen (you can select your preferred environment). I have provided a clip of my home environment that starts looking forward, you can see the screen that I use to select apps and change settings. Then I pan to the right (look for hanging chairs slowly swinging in the wind) and then to the left (look for a ceiling fan). You will see that I am totally surrounded by the environment.
Then, we have the First Steps app, which was created by Oculus as an introduction to VR and the Genesis software and hardware (mainly the hand controllers). First Steps begins with a dazzling series of VR environments, with one morphing into the next. My favorite early moment is when a huge digital whale, swims toward and over the view, and the view morphs into a futuristic city.
First Steps also provides a tutorial for using the handsets, which is so much fun that I probably have done it 10 times, and am not done. The first clip illustrates playing with blocks, hitting a ping-pong ball, and throwing a paper plane. The second, my training favorite activity, has me picking up a small rocket with my right hand and shooting it by pulling on a cord with my left hand (note how the rocket bounces off some 3D structure). I then get to dance with a robot, which I found to be really, really fun – but I scared my two dogs with my strange antics.
The next clips is from a YouTube 3D video provided by the Salvador Dali Museum; it starts with a view of one of Van Gogh’s iconic paintings, and the viewer is transported, by the magic of VR, into the painting and gets a tour by floating around the objects in the painting. Note trees blowing in the wind as you approach the weird Dali structures.
Finally, a clip from Ocean Rift, from the dolphins module. The dolphins interact with fakey innertubes that fall into the ocean, a dolphin swims through it, and the device (not the dolphin) explodes in a harmless but very colorful burst. The dolphins also interact with the viewer, and you may be able to see the incredible detail that creates such vivid animations.
I also have had a virtual tour of the Anne Franke House, viewed National Geographic YouTube views of elephants in the wild (at times the elephants approach the camera and loom over the viewer), a trip in a weather balloon to the edge of space, and much, much more.
So, how is all of this relevant to the practicing therapist? I will start reviewing some apps in a few weeks.