Finding my Voice in VR has been increasingly on my mind this week.
As I am entering my 11th week on this continuously transformative journey learning everything I can about VR design and production I see the effect it is having on me, and the new horizon before me.
But first, I am going to provide some background. I’m not prone to wax on like this, so forgive me as I digress slightly.
I ventured into this opportunity before me because of my love of learning and wanting to shift my career as an Experience Designer into the emerging realm of VR for Education and Goodness for all mankind.
See, as long as I can remember, no matter what I do, I always want it to be working in the pursuit of making the World a better place. Now that I’ve been working for 20+ years as a Designer, I see just how ambiguous this ambition can be, and even somewhat of a cliché for some, but I truly believe I have held fast and hard to this working ethic.
Early on, as a pioneering digital designer, I thought my focus was about bringing people closer together through new experiences and touch points, first by creating new kinds of websites, then mobile sites, then desktop apps and connected services.
Then it shifted as I grew more experienced myself, and it was about helping designers be more conscious about how they channeled the power of digital and developing a sense of perspective. But while I was focused on these milestones, I somehow got away from my original dream of really helping people in a directly powerful and profound way.
I feel that Movements in our cultural values and ethics are always core to driving design. It’s been the fire behind everything I do and in my case, having worked abroad and back in the Bay Area several times, it’s been an integral part of my DNA and a calibrator by which I gauge any kind of new opportunity.
Which is why I want to share my growth-path with you now. See, back in 2015 I had the remarkably rare and unexpected opportunity to rethink my career and future goals.
I took time to explore the issues I deeply care about on a personal level and how I might contribute by leveraging my skills as a professional Service & Experience Designer. Unfortunately non-governmental organizations like Unicef or Doctors Without Borders come with challenges and logistics that extend far beyond my scope and resources.
Then I realized that the intersection between Virtual Reality and Social Media was becoming increasingly appealing as an emerging Movement and possible career path.
Not only that, it was hitting quite close to home. Literally. See, my husband worked his butt off for 7 years building a computer-vision platform (which is beyond words cool). Facebook noticed his Startup’s endeavors and acquired them in late 2014, relocating us back to my home turf of the Bay Area.
So, while I was thinking of helping underprivileged children or refugees in remote parts of the world, my husband was helping to build the first commercial device manufactured by Facebook/Oculus, called The Rift.
Needless to say, as I entered 2016, I decided to start exploring the concept of VR for Good. Little did I know what an intensely enriching period that would be, constantly filled with unbelievable industry developments, conferences, hack-a-thons, meet-ups, engagements and new friends.
On the very same day the Rift was released, Oculus announced they were going to kick-off a pilot program called Oculus Launch Pad. (You can read about the program in my previous post Oculus Launch Pad Recap for more details).
At the time, I was actually in the process of starting up a startup of my own when I received the invitation to join 99 fellow visionaries in the program.
I’m not entirely sure on what qualifications I had for being accepted, but at the time of my application, I was in the process of developing an immersive sports education platform for high school athletes (in VR). While I love the idea of immersive sports training in VR, I was not convinced I was convicted enough to build a startup around it just yet. You can check out the details here.
Come time the Oculus Bootcamp rolled around, I knew that I would need to start fresh, from a clean slate and just let myself learn as much as possible. To surrender myself completely was the best course of action I could have taken.
Since then, I have been actively studying, discussing, exploring, testing, making and even breaking things at times. It’s been a totally different experience, one that comes with it’s own set of challenges, and unlike anything I’ve ever dared to do before. Which suits me just fine.
Now, finally to the point. My Voice in VR. It has been on my mind, in the background most of the time, but much more in my face now as I develop the gameplay and core game concept now.
I always ask myself “What do I want to accomplish with this (insert product name here). And more importantly, what sense of accomplishment do I want the end- (customer, visitor, user, administrator, player) to feel? This time is different. VR is different.
My original plans have been to develop a demo that is intended to be a means to inform, educate and entertain people by enabling them to actively play and engage with Nature, and ultimately become more aware of the issues affecting endangered species and their habitats. Using VR to help tell the stories that need to be heard on behalf of Nature conservation. To make it fun and light-hearted, I’ve included Moki, a magical Yeti companion who helps the Viewer, or in some cases, vice versa.
Now I have never worked in any capacity in Nature conservation, nor as a VR Designer, but my Voice is gradually growing from a whisper to a roar. That said, I don’t want to overpower the end Viewer with it either. I want for them to arrive at their own opinion and take their own actions. Ultimately I want to aim for design-driven (vs. Player-driven) experiences that highlight the beauty of VR and it’s innate sense of freedom “to be” in a moment.
The metrics I start finding myself thinking about are less about “What kind of measurable action can I get them to take after taking off Moki’s Adventure” to more like “How long would a Viewer sit and watch Loggerhead Turtle hatchlings come out of their nest?”.
Or even more so, how can I tap into that magic, that childlike sense of awe and wonder, that enthusiasm and exuberance one gets when they see something new for the first time. Being in VR is so much about being in a moment, but also about being in a new time, space and place they could only fantasize about. I love this film where the kids are experiencing something they’ve made in VR:
That is why my Voice is less about what I want the Player to do and more about how can I create the kind of environment, stage, setting and tools so that my Viewers have greater access and insights on life, nature and the beauty of being human.
I love VR, and hope it will help people find what they truly want to connect to on the most fundamental level. And perhaps, help them find their own Voice.
That’s it. I hope these thoughts, while personal, resonate with those who are looking to either create or participate in VR. I’d love to hear your thoughts and journeys! Feel free to drop me a line anytime.