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will we jack-in to our stories with the oculus rift?

You and I are focused on telling good stories. We spend hours a day honing our craft; writing, drawing, writing/drawing, rendering, inking. But when we look at the world around us, most ponder if we’re focusing on the right platform. As a writer, I wonder how I can best take advantage of the fact that billions of people are mobile. Not just to sell books to them, but to give them a story that takes advantage of their mobile mindset, that makes sense in their modern lives, that maybe even uses some of the incredible technology sitting in their purses.

And just as I’ve begun incorporating mobile technologies into my craft, just as my brain has begun to capture decent ideas that I can apply to some of today’s tech, tomorrow’s tech rears its head.

The Oculus Rift is one of two things. It’s either the best-hyped product since the Segway (we all know how that turned out), or the second coming of the iPad. For decades, our Science Fiction stories have talked about virtual reality. Our fantasy movies are steeped in it. And some part of our brains ask “so where is it, already?” I mean, it’s 2013 and everyone from Nintendo to MIT have tried to do it right, and failed.

But the folks who make the Rift insist they’ve found the secret sauce. It’s a combination of humongous, enveloping 3D image and the best head-tracking possible. Oh, and developer buy-in. That last part is huge, because that’s where the company could have found its biggest shoulder shrugs. Instead, some highly influential talent has come out cheering for the tech. Not just any bigwigs, but skeptical, I-hate-everything gamer bigwigs. People like Gabe Newell from Steam and John Carmack from id. These guys rarely come out for anything, but they believe in the Rift and they’re offering support in most of the games they have their fingers in. Since Steam has thousands of titles, including AAA titles, it’s a big plus.

So let’s say this tech works as promised. Let’s say you put these silly goggles on your head and you feel like you’re being taken to another world. So what? It’s not like we’re going to sit around on our couch and experience games, movies, TV, news, and comic books on the thing for hours on end. Hell, 3D TV is dying a slow death and many attribute that fact to the silly-factor of a family wearing sunglasses in a dark room. But this line of thinking may be missing the point.

Why? Because, just like there were millions of us waiting for Apple to make a tablet that worked, millions of us want someone to make virtual reality work. There’s a huge number of people out there who would love for VR to make sense to us. We want that first step toward the all-immersive holodeck, but we also understand that to get there, we need to understand how to live in a world with virtual reality first. We need storytellers and game developers and artists and writers to experience VR, have an AH-HA moment that none of us could even ponder right now, and deliver us an old-fashioned yarn on a new-fangled piece of tech. But not just any piece of tech, a piece of tech that works as advertised.

I’m putting my money where my typewriter is. I’m ordering a Dev kit of the Oculus Rift today. After I get some time with it, I’ll do a follow-up post with an eye on its potential as a new vehicle for our stories.

But what if the tech isn’t there yet? What if the only way VR will ever work for us is if it hides behind perfectly normal glasses on a super-slim liquid/laser/whatever sheen of plastic the width of seven atoms? Maybe, but as a tech/Sci-Fi lover I hope the Rift will get us there faster. And as a storyteller, I’m prepping my brain for another deluge of ideas that will keep me up late into the night, excited.

I’ll give a nod to the skeptics out there and offer you this clip, proving just how ridiculous we will look with our goggles on. Go to 1:30 in and marvel at the contrast between an engaged human being and one who is jacked-in to VR. Yes, I find it scary too. But I also found people talking about their love lives on the cell phone in Starbucks scary, in 2003. Now I just make fun of them behind their backs, and they do not care one bit.

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