5 things I wish I’d known about VR when I first started out…

Let’s talk about VR.

As part of Virtual Umbrella’s creative/events team, I use, promote, play with, talk about, analyse, and pretty much live and breathe virtual reality. It’s part of my life now. I tweet about it. I earn my living through it. Sometimes I even dream about it.

But, believe it or not, it wasn’t all that long ago that I first got involved in the weird and wonderful world of VR. Samantha Kingston put my very first headset on (Samsung Gear, by the way) sometime around July 2016 – and I never looked back!

So, looking back across my last 300 or so days as a VR professional, it’s interesting to think about what misconceptions I had about virtual reality when I first entered the industry, and what I’ve learned about VR since then.

Without further ado, here are 5 things I wish I’d known about VR when I first started out….

Note: I realise list articles get a bad rep nowadays. Whenever a sentence starts with ‘5 things…’ it’s usually followed by a whole bunch of ‘churnalistic’ Buzzfeedy rubbish, masquerading as content. But, it’s worth reading, I promise.


1. It’s not a boys only club.

Virtual Reality isn’t just for men.

We have a long way to go in the tech industry before we reach gender equality. I still get raised eyebrows when I inform people that, yes, I do know what a VR headset is, and women are still struggling to get footholds in top positions in VR.

But there is a truly astounding community of female virtual reality professionals out there, and a huge variety of female-fronted events, panel, and platforms designed to promote female talent in this industry. There’s the incredibly cool ‘Women in VR’ panel at VR World Congress, Women of Wearables, Gadgette, Viar360’s ‘Women of VR’, and much, much more. Unlike many other tech industries, VR leaders aren’t blind to the problem of gender politics. They want to talk about it and help to counteract it.

It might not be a solution. But it’s a start.


2. There are no rules.

There are lots of facts about VR. There are particular demographics it’s popular with and there are trends we can start to see emerging. But the exciting truth is, no one can know for sure what VR will be doing in 10 years time. We’re growing at breakneck speeds, guys! And that means that stuff is going to happen that none of us were expecting. Be bold! No one can tell you off for it! Newness is part of our DNA as VR specialists. Embrace it.


3. It’s not new.

Ok. I know I just said that VR is all about being new and bold, but it’s also pretty old. When I first tried VR I assumed it was something that had only been invented recently, but there were early prototypes as far back as the 1960s!


4. It’s not just about gaming.

I’m a massive gamer, so when I first tried VR I was most excited about its interactive capabilities. ‘You mean I can beat up robots in 360??!!!!! For REALSIES!?’

I happen to still think that gaming is one of the most exciting areas of interest for a VR enthusiast. But there’s certainly more to VR than games. According to The Motley Fool, about 39% of Internet users say they want to watch movies in virtual reality, followed by 38% who want to play VR games. Companies like Breaking Fourth have shown that virtual reality can be a powerful, sensitive, artistic medium for non-interactive storytelling. As an ex-Oxford literary academic, that gets me pretty excited.


5. It works.

When I first heard about VR I had my doubts. I thought much the same as thousands of tech journalists – ‘yawn…another tech fad. 3D movies all over again’. The headsets looked a little gawky to me, and I wasn’t sure that this whole ‘immersion’ thing was all that promising. I’m a film buff – I like my ‘directorial frame’. Surely 360 vision was going to ruin so much of the creative control directors get from directing their audience’s attention. Right?


VR works. It has it’s drawbacks and it certainly has some way to go before it reaches its full potential. But it works. It’s not copying from another medium. It isn’t ‘augmented film’ or ‘video games, expanded’, it’s something unashamedly different. I’ve quite literally walked into walls whilst wearing a VR headset because – no matter how much I try, goddamn it! – I can’t quite stop myself believing that what I’m seeing is real. If we’re clever, and I believe the VR industry is – by and large – clever, we can help to pioneer new kinds of experiences that matter. Is there anything better than that?

I don’t think so.

If there’s anything I’ve learnt in my first 300 days as a VR professional, it’s that the next 300 will be even more eventful than the first. Long live VR!