One of my favorite books, Ready Player One, explores a virtual reality that has taken over the actual reality. Humanity lives in a dystopian world where their escape from their ‘stacks’ – trailer parks built on vertical scaffolding – is the OASIS, a VR game/social network that provides everyone with a magical escape to classic science fiction worlds. Children attend school in the OASIS; adults make a living working in virtual shopping centers. Elements of the internet as we know it – friend lists, blogs, and chat rooms – have been incorporated into an all-encompassing society that has very real-world rewards when the game’s founder dies and reveals an “Easter egg” treasure hunt that pits “Gunters” – hackers and gamers set on solving the mysteries of the OASIS – against mega corporations set on monetizing the OASIS, essentially taking over the world.
You really should go read it. Yesterday, when Facebook announced that they were buying Oculus VR, the first thing I thought of was how close to reality the idea of the OASIS truly is.
Unfortunately, similarly to how Art3mis, Aech, and Parzival view IOI, the evil company planning to take over the VR world in Ready Player One, the Oculus developer community has exploded in an outrage at the acquisition – some ranting about the injustice of funding a Kickstarter campaign for a buyout, others holding a personal vendetta against Facebook for their “If you aren’t the customer you are the product” advertising monetization system. Simply by associating themselves with the huge social media company, Oculus may see their acquisition as harming the relationship they have with their current developer network. I’ll be perfectly honest, this really bums me out – I’m ready for a world with the OASIS.
As apps and services become the way to get just about anything done, the world that Ernest Cline describes in Ready Player One is becoming more and more similar to our reality. With Google Shopping Express, Amazon, and a number of Bay Area startups, it has never been easier to survive solely with an internet connection and power. Facebook the product has harmed the image of Facebook the company, which is understandable given the new age of privacy and data concerns but sad at the same time – it’s a company founded by people who love technology and finding solutions for connecting people.
When you consider the potential of a much-awaited technology such as the Oculus Rift and the financial backing, not to mention the user base of a company as huge as Facebook, it makes sense to consider why Zuckerberg and Co. would want to be involved. When developers push back claiming things like “I didn’t buy this to become a Facebook developer”, they are hurting the potential to bring virtual reality to a massive audience beyond gaming. Yes – VR games are going to be awesome, but what about all of the non-glamorous things that virtual reality can enable? Imagining the world of the OASIS, it isn’t difficult to see how products such as the Oculus Rift, with a backing from Facebook, will make the technology to have virtual face-to-face education, business, tutoring, shopping more available and more social.
Yeah, it would really suck to get toast notifications from my Facebook account when I’m in a virtual world, but Palmer Luckey has already established that isn’t happening. What will happen is lower prices, more resources, and more opportunity to advance virtual reality if people are willing to take the plunge – unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a lot of the experienced developers are.
Me? I imagine a world where I can have a beer with my friends who live all over the world and have it feel like we’re all in the same room. I love the idea of being able to combine my online presence and identity with my actual identity, and I anxiously await the day where it’s socially acceptable to be plugged in because of how many physical boundaries VR will break.
I want an OASIS. I’m in.