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Thread by @JesseDamiani: "Just saw the @ReadyPlayerOne movie and want to know how it stacks up against the reality of virtual reality? This thread that breaks down wh […]" #VR #ReadyPlayerOne #RP1 #SocialVR

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Just saw the @ReadyPlayerOne movie and want to know how it stacks up against the reality of virtual reality? This thread that breaks down what RP1 gets right, not-quite-right, and flat-out wrong about the future of #VR, immersion, & the metaverse.
We’ll also examine the tech #ReadyPlayerOne left out altogether. After all, the film is set in 2045, and given the exponential rate of technological advancement, 27 years will likely yield some dramatic changes in society.
There are a few articles that have pointed out some of the basics, but having worked in the industry for 4+ years, I want to paint a fuller picture of our impending reality, with RP1 as the jumping-off point.
⚡⚡NOTE: Light spoilers are included below, so if you want to go in totally fresh, maybe bookmark this thread for after you’ve seen the movie. Also, this is only in reference to the film, not the book.
EMBODIMENT
Embodiment and presence obviously play the greatest role in the present and future of VR, so let’s start there.
AVATARS
The primary means by which embodiment occurs is through avatars—how we choose to represent our bodies in virtual space. & since we’re nothing if not vain, it’s also arguably the most important aspect driving socialization in the metaverse—but more on that later.
In #RP1, part of the fun is seeing homages to existing properties—many of which stem from ‘80s IP like Chucky, Gundam, & Back to the Future. Since these are meant to function as fan service for moviegoers, these don’t really stray much from the source content.
To an extent, we’re seeing something similar happen in existing metaverses, such as VRChat. But don’t underestimate people’s desire to tweak & tinker. In @VRChatNet, you’ll find everything from miniature renditions of Knuckles to buff Winnie the Poohs.
NOTE: the video below contains both graphic & tasteless content, but demonstrates some of what I’m talking about:
So RP1 is accurate in the sense that the future of VR will hold more than its fair share of avatars plucked from beloved properties, BUT it’s unlikely they’ll all be 1:1 replications. I’d even wager that *more* of these homage avatars will be transformed in some way than not.
Don’t sleep on the power of memes—particularly as they evolve—to play a major part in the progression of #SocialVR worlds.
On that note, it would also be wise to expect completely nonsensical and non-humanoid avatars, such as the “Cory House” (also seen in video above)
Avatar selection will have everything to do with the platform. Oasis is similar to @HighFidelityInc, @VRChatNet, & @SansarOfficial in the sense that users are given a high degree of choice in how they represent themselves.
However, this leaves out other types of metaverse platforms, such as @AltspaceVR & @RecRoom, which both employ standardized looks (that users can then modify in-app). This too will be a big part of our VR future.
(In case that avatar looks a little familiar: yes, it is @ReggieWatts, who’s been known to perform live in @AltspaceVR, among many other VR and AR dabblings).
SCALE
Another amazing aspect presented in RP1 is its varying avatar sizes—which certainly makes for sweeping battle scenes (s/o Iron Giant). Again, this adheres closely to “actual” character sizes, whereas the future of VR will be awash in customization (ie. tiny iron giants).
An aspect of RP1 that doesn’t quite ring true to VR’s future is that users seem to remain in the avatars they chose against all sense (ie. Why wouldn’t you choose the most massive, destructive, capable avatar for a death match?)
Just as Parzival is able to adjust his look in realtime, users are already able to shuffle through avatars at a moment’s notice, so it seems reasonable to expect that in the future of the metaverse, people will be cycling in and out of different avatars to best fit the moment.
IDENTITY
As you might expect, this complicates the notion of identity. One fascinating aspect of VR is "embodied cognition." If you have a minute, check out this (& the many other) fantastic studies from @StanfordVR: vhil.stanford.edu/pubs/2016/eval…
Over the next three decades, identity is going to become much more fluid than we’ve ever before imagined it—a concept rooted in exploration more than fixed ideas. Another VHIL publication to reference here:
vhil.stanford.edu/pubs/2015/many…
Of course, we’ll also have different ways of engaging with our own avatars across all the different VR worlds in which we participate—and this will influence the social norms in said metaverses.
We’ll need a way to maintain a simple, persistent identity across our infinite avatars. @philiprosedale’s thoughts on the matter are the most articulate available: he believes #blockchain will be fundamental to ensuring user security in this regard. medium.com/@philiprosedal…
What we see in RP1 is again a 1:1 relationship between user & avatar. Wade is Parzival. The end. While this will still occur to some extent, the film doesn’t imagine any of the paradigmatic shifts that will take place as XR becomes the de facto immersive computing platform.
HEADSETS
In the film, we see users don headsets most similar in build to the original @Oculus mockups.
The one major difference—& something RP1 gets right—is the versatility of the visors. These can fully block out users' vision OR go transparent. Though we’re not there yet, having all-in-one headsets that allow for VR & AR appears to be an inevitability.
You’ll also notice that these headsets aren’t connected by a wire to a computer, the way high-end headsets are today.
2018 is poised to be the watershed year for standalone headsets, with @htcvive Focus already launched in China (with international launch later this year) & @Oculus Go out within the next few months (with Santa Cruz on the horizon to boot).
Tethered headsets are one of the biggest hurdles to mainstream adoption at present, so there’s no doubt that in the very near future, all headsets will be tetherless.
That said, there’s a bit of a gap in logic in the timeline with RP1. Do we really believe that we’ll be donning headsets like this in 27 years?
If we haven’t yet reached the point of full brain-computer interface (ie. @Neuralink), retinal implants, or smart contact lenses, we’re still much more likely to see light form-factor glasses akin to @Google Glass or the @magicleap One than blocky head-mounted displays.
TRACKING
The hardware in RP1 appears to use inside-out tracking—which essentially means that internal cameras/sensors situate the pose of the headset (and by proxy, the user) in meatspace and continuously translate this information to the virtual world.
This is something RP1 gets dead right: most consumer systems are moving away from outside-in tracking, which involves setting up external sensors to track users.
LOCOMOTION
How we move in VR is obviously a big deal. Currently, we use a cocktail of room-scale design (meaning your movements are tracked throughout a predetermined play space) & controllers to dictate how we move through virtual environments.
This provides a healthy degree of immersion, but ultimately we’re going to want the real deal. For that, we need omni-directional treadmills like @Infinadeck (which is actually featured in the movie).
To reach the point where these treadmills can accommodate full sprinting though, we’re inevitably going to need advancements in AI for predictive motion. That and treadmills that can account for the y-axis (in addition to the x- and z-axes) to replicate uneven & changing terrain.
Short of all that, we’re bound to keep witnessing a whole lot of unintentional (+painful? hilarious?) collisions…so it seems fair to say that with 27 years of testing, we’ll have cracked the code. Until then, here's something for your day:
(Don’t even get me started on this whole bit. Probably the most unnecessary plot hole in the whole movie.)
While we’re on the subject: Nolan Sorrento, the film’s antagonist, uses a throne that makes little sense given how we’re made to understand the translation of movement from the real to virtual world. How exactly is he moving in VR when he’s sitting IRL?
Ironically, this might be something easily addressed through #BCI, which I believe *is* where we’re headed. In the meantime, a full-movement system like that does exist: the @gopositron Voyager. And it’s awesome. As you might expect, it’s currently intended for seated experiences
HAPTICS & FORCE FEEDBACK
When we see Wade take a tumble or receive Art3mis’s touch, he feels it in his body through the haptic suit/gloves he wears. Today’s technology, like @HaptX, points to a future where this will indeed be possible.
Again, we run up against whens rather than ifs. We’ll no doubt see incredible haptics in the future, but with advancements in nerve stimulation, it also seems inevitable that we’ll eventually bypass gear in favor of feeling sensations organically. futurism.com/nerve-stimulat…
INVERSE KINEMATICS
What goes unmentioned in the film—which rightfully doesn’t waste time explaining all the tech—is how bodies are tracked by headsets when users *aren’t* wearing suits. For that, we'll need to a powerful predictive tracking system to infer user pose.
UI/UX
Speaking of which, one of the things RP1 nails is its interaction system. Rather than presenting options with buttons, cursors, and other features of traditional computing, choices are selected in Oasis via intuitive body motions.
In other words: we had to flatten the 3D world to 2D in order to compute on flat screens. When VR takes hold as the primary computing platform, we’ll revert to our spatial first principles—meaning gesture-based interactions will prevail.
PORTALS
Another thing RP1 gets right on this score is the concept of portals, which users can drop to hop among different worlds. This has emerged as a popular feature in SocialVR as we know it today, and given its convenience and usability, will likely remain a fixture of VR.
One aspect RP1 completely leaves out of the picture is teleporting, a mechanic employed by a large number of VR experiences to allow users to zip around worlds. It was originally a workaround for present-day locomotion obstacles, but it’s also just super convenient.
From a cinematic standpoint, this would have made the action scenes pretttty weird—and definitely less epic—but if we’re being honest, the idea that hordes of users would “run” into battle this way is far-fetched.
WORLD
All right, now to the whale of the discussion: Oasis, the metaverse presented in Ready Player One.
Here’s what RP1 gets right about it: it will be weird, wonderful, and definitely used as an escape for many. It will allow for crazy, surreal physics/mechanics (a la the dance sequence in the Distracted Globe). It will use native currencies for transactions (more on that later).
In addition to the errors pointed out above, from a technical standpoint, the movie also leaves out “instancing”—users’ ability to create private or public instances of an environment. ie. There could be an infinite number of Distracted Globe worlds playing out simultaneously.
Whether or not this is “true” in RP1, the impression is that it’s (just) one continuous world for all users—and this is simply not true of VR—present or future.
This might seem trivial, but it’s not. Imagine how different that final battle scene would have played out if users were portaling to-and-from different worlds to reach the respective Ataris.
Speaking of which, the worst technical error presented about the metaverse is the idea that we’ll create virtual objects “by hand,” as Aech does with the Iron Giant. Even today, users can simply hop into 3D software & game engines to create their characters, objects, and worlds
The idea that we’d build things by hand, with collected digital objects, couldn’t be further from the reality of today, much less the 2040s.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’ll be some novelty app that allows you to build cars from scratch and stuff like that—but the idea that it’d be the *only* way to do so is majorly off-mark.
But the gravest misconception #RP1 might imply is a conceptual one: that the future of VR will only be a game—and thereby: mostly for gamers.
So many peers are using VR & AR to do incredible work in education, training, retail, narrative experiences, sports, fashion—the list goes on. I wish I had time to list them in detail; they’re mindblowing. These pioneers are the reason I’m in this industry
VR will not only be as “big” & varied as the real world—it’ll be infinitely grander. If you can dream it, now you can make it. & as it permeates our lives, it’ll inspire totally new ways of thinking, learning, spatializing ideas, playing, collaborating sharing, & more.
So this idea that there will be one dominant, unified metaverse—in the form of an MMORPG, no less—concerns me. It’s not just narrow, it’s potentially regressive. This might not seem like that big of a deal, except that RP1 is, for many, the first real introduction to modern VR.
I’m excited about the new recruits the movie will bring to our community, I just hope it doesn’t simultaneously set a precedent that is both inaccurate and potentially uninclusive (particularly given the many male-gaze-y aspects of the story itself).
So, to all of you who are newly inspired to make VR games, including MMORPGs—do it! We need you. Please just be thoughtful with your creations; the implicit bias that weaves them has the very real potential to set cultural precedents. Some good, others not.
To those of you who want to push VR beyond gaming, just know that this community is vibrant & diverse, full of wild & wacky thinkers. There’s plenty of space for you, so don’t let fears of toxic cultures keep you out. If anything, that’s all the more reason to join </soapbox>
MIXING REALITIES
Another thing RP1 gets right is the blending of virtual & augmented reality, as seen in the holographic conversation between Wade & Sorrento. There’s already an early version of this with @Facebook Spaces, and it seems to darn fun not to expect more in the future
Money threads everything we do, and that will be just as true in VR. We have over a decade of evidence from @SecondLife that native currencies work—and with the recent explosion of #crypto, there’s no doubt in my mind this will factor into future metaverses.
Now, do I think it will be represented by avatars erupting into piles of coins? Nah.
ADVERTISING
Nolan Sorrento wants to own Oasis so he can turn it into a veritable advertising hell, with buzzing 2D banners consuming 80% of players’ available field of view.
Spiritually, this isn’t so far from the reality we’re already in (see: Facebook’s handling of user data). But, as I pointed out last year, immersive advertising will soon undergo a serious evolution in order to better capture audiences. qz.com/1089554/virtua…
TLDR: because of the amount of agency VR/AR lend users, marketing content will actually have to be pretty compelling in its own right to remain relevant, particularly alongside the rise of ad blockers.
So even if a villainous corporate suit wanted to fill our days with ads, those ads wouldn’t look anything like the 2D web formats we’re (painfully) accustomed to.
DECENTRALIZATION, CREATION & COMPETITION
Speaking of which: we’ll never exist in a world where one metaverse is the sole worthwhile place to go. There’s just too much good stuff & too many creators with too many good ideas a-brewin’
Furthermore, don’t expect any metaverse to be the sole creation of one godlike auteur. It’s just too difficult, with too many necessary skillsets. That is, unless it’s by an entity far superior in wit and skill than the lone human mind…
ARTIFICIAL INTELLGIENCE
Another glaring absence in RP1 is AI. As my friend @ArmandoKirwin puts it: AI characters will come to outnumber human participants by a factor of at least 10:1 in VR. You might be asking, “What’s your evidence that a bunch of those characters *aren’t* AI?”
My answer? Sixers + Loyalty Camps. Human laborers in VR. If you were Nolan Sorrento, why would you rely on a rotating cast of humans to do your work? Sure, you might have a few running around, but AI labor would be cheaper, faster, & more effective.
This isn’t really a criticism of RP1—in many ways, AI would render the plot irrelevant. But I do think it’s important to note that the future of immersive worlds is awash in AI—and thereby infinitely stranger & more unexpected than its presentation in the movie.
One way in which RP1 uses AI to great effect is the “suppress emotion” mechanic Wade uses to block Sorrento from seeing his shock, which is a creative and inevitable-seeming application of AI & computer vision.
Speaking of which: RP1 also nails computer vision—which constantly scans users’ faces to replicate them in VR. It’s one feature of VR that’s not quite there yet, but we all know it will have to come, given its importance in communication via body language
On the same note, Aech’s realtime voice filter is another feature of RP1 that I suspect we’ll see in heavy use in the very short-tern, and certainly by 2045—particularly given the rise of voice as an interaction tool over the past few years.
Another sphere RP1 accurately predicts is 3D imaging using #volumetric capture, #photogrammetry, and AI reconstruction—as in the library scenes, and best employed in the Shining sequence, a standout (& my personal favorite).
To see how rapidly 3D capture is developing, look no further than @QuantumCapture. & with tools like Volume, we’ll be able to reverse-engineer 3D depth from 2D images—something that will allow even novice creators to generate incredible worlds.
I want to acknowledge that this thread examines the film as a cultural document, and is intended to discuss RP1’s relative accuracy compared to real-world technologies (as far as they appear to be progressing).
Of course, RP1 is a work of fiction, and I’m appreciative of the extensive & incredible work done by all involved in its creation. Moreover, I’m thrilled that it will push VR to the forefront for so many who have never considered it before.
I hope it does draw loads of new artists, creators, consumers, thinkers, & otherwise to immersive technologies. Because ultimately, even this mega-thread is just scratching the surface of the wild directions the future is about to take us.
END/ What did you think about #ReadyPlayerOne? Are there technologies, movements, or otherwise you want to discuss in greater depth? Let’s start a conversation.
And don't miss this thread from @kentbye!
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