For the past year, I’ve been working on virtual reality projects at HBO. We’ve learned a ton, but there is still so much we don’t know.
Although VR experiences borrow from the language of film and borrow from the language of video games, one of the most important things we’ve learned is that VR is truly a new medium.
With traditional media, you are on the outside looking in. You read a book. You watch a movie. You play a game. The view you have of the book or the film or the game is a window into another world. It may be an immersive experience, but you can easily exit that experience by simply casting your gaze in a different direction.
With virtual reality, you’re on the inside looking out. You can’t look away, because everywhere you turn is part of the experience that’s been created for you.
Perhaps the most apt metaphor is Disneyland rides. When you’re on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, you are in the center of the experience. The experience surrounds you, engulfs you. Cannons roar. Water sprays. Fires rage. Wenches run. Pirates sing. And you are in the middle of it all. You can’t look away.
The “inside looking out” notion is key to understanding VR. For instance, it’s one of the reasons we no longer talk about having a camera in VR, because the very notion of a camera harkens back to an “outside looking in” perspective, with a window on the world. Instead, we talk about the person in VR — a person who can (and often will) look in every direction, the person who is completely immersed in the experience, and the person who can’t escape the experience without physically removing their headset!