Kids Love Virtual Reality

When you’re feeling down about the bug you can’t fix, a major studio announces a title that is too similar to yours for comfort, or the doubters and naysayers are being just a bit too persuasive for comfort – go show a group of kids virtual reality for the first time, and be ready for the unadulterated, pure joy of children discovering magic.

An Oculus demo with kids at an event

Photo by @odd_dimensions (Justin Smith) on Twitter

I’ve written before about my experience giving virtual reality demos at other events for kids, and I’m always amazed how their reactions to the technology blows away any type of enthusiasm I’ve seen in adults – even my own, and I’m known to jump up and down at new announcements in the industry! There is truly something amazing about the lack of a ceiling on excitement when it comes to children. I’ve probably done VR demos to 300 or so middle school kids by now, and I have never once  had any of them complain about frame rate refreshes, or the lack of input devices or whether or not is was a little juddery.Many of them immediately run off to tell their parents about how the Cardboard is only $15 on Amazon, and many of them are already familiar with news. Parents are incredibly supportive (today, I think I had as many adults trying out the Oculus as kids!) and I’ve given (very short) demos to kids as young as six or seven, with parental consent of course. The Cardboard headset blows them away, especially when they realize how close it is to their own reality. One particularly enthusiastic kid today actually downloaded a bunch of apps on his own phone while he waited in line, and ran around blind in the headset exploring them in the midst of a crowd.

“Why would anyone pay to go to Great America when they can ride a ROLLER COASTER IN THEIR HOME?!” – after trying an Oculus Minecraft-styled demo

“I’M LITERALLY IN PARIS RIGHT NOW.” – from the Cardboard ‘Tour Guide’ sample

As much as I adore the industry, being an adult brings with it the understanding of disappointment and expectations – things that children tend to suspend that make virtual reality feel all the more real to them. Countless kids immediately jumped back in line after their turn at the Rift, and many of them asked questions about how to get started building their own apps. One of the boys today started talking about how virtual reality could replace honeymoon travel (“Except you wouldn’t be able to see the person you just married”) and another declared himself an addict after one try and could barely be convinced to put down one headset to give another one a go.

A large screen monitor showing an Oculus rift demo

The setup – the big screen drew a lot of attention!

Kids don’t care if you’re showing your demo on a laptop or if you’ve got the latest and greatest graphics card. They don’t really mind if the frame rate isn’t perfect and not one of them has gotten sick on me yet. One of them was particularly brave and had me push him around in the rolling chair to increase the sense of presence – which was a ton of fun for both of us and got a lot of laughs.

Is my Oculus probably covered in a bunch of germs? Maybe. I have alcohol wipes though, it’s temporary. Do parts occasionally go missing? Yes, but they’ve always made their way back. Is it tiring to do the same demo for five hours? Not even a little bit – the reaction makes it 150% worth it and seeing how excited kids are to do this is seriously inspiring. Kids love VR – I encourage everyone with a headset to think about whether there are kids in your life that would love to try it out! We’re in an awesome position to inspire a new generation to fall in love with technology, so take advantage of that every chance you can.

Are you in the SF Bay area and want to have something like this at an event you run? I’ve helped do demos for students of all ages and have run Unity workshops for middle school kids through college students – let me know if there’s something we can do together! 

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2 thoughts on “Kids Love Virtual Reality

  1. Would you be willing to write about your strategy for teaching Unity to kids?

    I’m a part time STEM teacher, k-6 level, and am fascinated but intimidated by Unity. I’m trying to learn it myself, bit by bit, and am wondering how I could teach it to kids. I’ve had the chance to give over 100 people (including children, veterans of recent wars, para/quadraplegics, and a group of 15-or-so Japanese-speaking schoolgirls) their first VR experience now, either Oculus DK2 or Cardboard, or both, and I would agree wholeheartedly that it is endlessly entertaining and often hilarious to spend half a day watching people get their first taste.

    I want to be able to follow that up with a “Yeah! And here’s how…” and, thus, would be interested in and grateful for any thoughts you could share on the teaching side of it.

    Thanks!
    – David

    • Hi David! I would be happy to share some of my strategies. I’m actually teaching a course on VR development right now (to older students, but it’s my first time going end to end for VR development) and plan on doing a series of this very soon, and I will definitely include how I adapt those for kids!

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