VR? AR? I'd Rather Put My Head in the Oven Than Wear a Headset

By Gary Cutlack on at

It seems to be Free Pass Day for Microsoft today, as, in the wake of its Windows 10 and Hololens announcements from last night, everyone's raving about the future of the software giant and thrilled about having another screen to stick in front of their lifeless faces all the time.

Shortly we'll have Oculus Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus head-mounted gaming system, this new Microsoft hologram thing and plenty of other face-strapped oddities to keep us from having to make eye contact with nutcases and get closer to Minecraft than ever before.

To me, this new VR rush -- it was the future in 1993 as well, you know -- seems to have more in common with the push to force 3D on us, again, a few years back. It's technology for the sake of it, because someone invented it and wants to get rich out of it, not some massive leap forward people actually want.

They're clumsy, you look silly with one on, they're bound to be a bit of a pain on the eyes, you look silly with one on, they need accessories and cables, you look silly with one on, special forms of media have to be bought to use them, you look silly with one on, they're more fuss to use than the gaming set-ups we currently have and you look silly with one on.

I have a Nintendos 3DS. I bought it to play Animal Crossing. The 3D mode was switched off after a few minutes, as it just interfered with the game. It didn't immerse me, it distracted me from it. I was moving my head around to examine the workings of the underlying technology, suddenly painfully aware that I was a 40-year-old man playing a little game about fishing that's probably for children. It broke down the fourth wall.

A headset will be the same. I'll be self-conscious while using it. Aware of its weight. Wondering if my ears are supposed to go above, under or through the side bit. Worried about the phone ringing and it being something important and me missing it because I'm walking around a virtual street being impressed by the head-tracking accuracy of my new toy. Concerned about the macular degeneration that having a screen pressed so close to my precious eyes may cause. And worried that, even though I'll only use it when I have the house to myself, I look very, very silly.

These VR and AR headsets are nothing more than novelty items to show off when the neighbours come round, or when your dad expresses an interest in what exactly it is that you do in your bedroom for 16 hours a day. They're for enthusiasts only, like narrow gauge railways and people who go hang gliding on the moors at the weekend.

And yes, they make for a good tech demo all right. I'm sure I'd be amazed by Oculus Rift or HoloLens or any of the other face-screens, but I'd be amazed in the same way I'm amazed by seeing a hippopotamus at the zoo. They're impressive things, but I know I wouldn't really want one in my house. And once the novelty has worn off I'll wish I'd never bought it back home with me in the first place, as it's becoming a bit of an embarrassment.