What does VR feel like?

People always ask me, “Hey man, what does VR feel like!?” My answer: it should feel like this Duke Dumont video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHCYHldJi_g

But you know what? It never does. Why!?

Because most people’s first encounter with VR is an obscenity. 

They have to first get themselves inside this cumbersome headset, and then their experience is often a quick 30-second clip, something “quick and flashy” as Ashton Kutcher calls it. This is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. WRONG.

I know from doing magic that people need a significant time-investment in the virtual experience before they can even begin to fixate on it. Imagine if Game of Thrones was just this one-off clip. The first episode. Would we have all fixated on this show, talked about it for hours on end for over the next seven years since it debuted? If it was just this one episode on April 17th 2011? Probably not. Better yet, what if it was just the first scene? What if it was just something “quick and flashy” as is the case with almost all of the VR content out right now. 

Almost everybody’s first experience with VR is some cute quick and flashy video clip, or a few minutes in a game that they first need to fumble around and learn all the controls for. Only a niche group has actually had enough passion to make it through the controls and the learning curve to spend a decent amount of time in VR to search through everything out there and find the items that resonate with them. This audience is niche, but still in the millions, and still spends around an hour or more in VR each time they use their headset. Why!? Why do VR games with over an hour of gameplay sell the most downloads? Because of the contrecoup impact. 

Contrecoup impact is a magic term coined by this underground magic blog, The Jerx, which sets out to strengthen the impact of your magic tricks. The Jerx argues that if I simply make a coin disappear into vapor at the dinner table, that’s one thing. “Wow. It’s gone.” There’s a momentary feeling of astonishment, and then it’s over. Fleeting. Gone. Back to what we were saying… Is Trump getting impeached? Back to life, gotta go into work tomorrow. 

However, if I tell you all at the dinner table that there’s this mysterious zone like the Bermuda Triangle at the top of this mountain by a glacier lake in the Rockies and that I’ve booked us all flights for a visit during the first full moon of the new year, because that’s when this website I found says that the mysterious zone is most hyper-active, and last year things went missing, like airplanes, and nobody has found them since. And then we all book out of work, pack our things, and get into a van, go to the airport, and then hop on a flight and fly to the town neighboring this mountain, and pitch a tent at its base, and then stay up all night camping and singing songs around the fire and toasting marshmallows all while I’m telling ghost stories about the different things that have gone missing over the past few years under the full moon in this mysterious zone. I’m building up tension for tomorrow’s hike. We’ve all been living this experience for days. And then finally when we go up and I’m following some weird map and guiding us around streams, and then retracing our steps, and looking up at the stars, and going “Yes, yes, right here! We’ve made it.” And we all look up. And around. And we’re in this surreal location. And I say, “Hey does anyone have a coin? This is the water.” And somebody pulls out a coin, and I take it, and when I go to toss it into the water – WTF? it vanishes into vapor. We’re all going to look at each other like WTF!? That was WEIRD. And then I ask for another coin, and I try again, and WHOOSH— it’s gone into vapor. We’re going to be thinking, man something’s up about this weird spot under this full moon, and let’s get the hell out of here before we’re sucked into another dimension. And then years later, we will all still be talking about that time the coin  magically vanished into vapor. Why!? Why does the same exact magic trick have a different impact during one presentation at the dinner table, and another presentation on a mountain top? Because of the contrecoup impact. You can read about it here. Truthfully this term refers to a much larger dialogue about mystery vs astonishment, and if you’re really into all that stuff you can dive into it on that guy’s site, but my point is just this–

Essentially, the more time we spend with the astonishing experience, the longer this experience will stick with us.

1) you have to be engaged the whole way through, and

2) the whole way through has to be longer than a fleeting, quick and flashy beat.

The longer the experience, the more likely it will be remembered, enjoyed, and talked about later. Think about Titanic. That thing was so long it didn’t fit on one VHS. I used to have to sub out the second tape every time just so I could get through the friggin thing. What a pain in the ass. But I had to see what happened. I was engaged. I never saw anything like it before. It was my favorite movie.

Virtual Reality is no different than a magic trick. It’s a fucking incredible experience. However, the experience itself needs to warrant the time it takes to get the thing onto your head. Somebody is not just spending money on your product. They are also spending time and expending comfort in a lot of cases to get the device onto their heads. What you then show them better make this process worth it.

1) They better not want their money back, and

2) The experience in-headset better take up more time than they spent getting into the headset at the very least. The longer the better. We want them inside our experience for so long that they can’t even remember the fleeting moments before pressing play. If we’re just showing a quick and flashy promo, forgetboutit. We’re going to fail.