Review of Zero Point: The Oculus Rift Documentary

Zero Point is a 15-minute 3D virtual reality documentary made for the Oculus Rift and about the Oculus Rift. The documentary equally represents the positive and negative, utopian and dystopian, potential of psychologically immersive 3D virtual reality technology. The film takes the viewer on a tour of various domains of experience that the oculus can capture and transfer, along with interviews and voiceover commentary from some of the lead scientists who are developing the technology. These experiences include being in a war zone during an unexpected attack, watching hang gliders prepare along the shore of a beach, being with a bride and her bridesmaids as she prepares for pictures in the woods, and being amidst buffalo while they walk towards the sunset. Thus, the film is demonstrating that virtual reality can offer experiences that range from social media extension (the bridesmaids) to documentary capturing (the war zone) to peaceful meditations (the ocean shoreline) to experiences that would be unsafe in real life (the buffalo).

On the one hand, virtual reality allows people to expand their worldview through having access to worlds otherwise unavailable, and this access goes beyond words on a screen and film in its ability to really parallel the lived embodied experience of actually being in a place. However, the dystopian flip of this is that this encourages an increasingly detached, uninvolved, and removed participation from the social world and the real world. Increasingly, technology is becoming insular and isolating people from one another. If experiences can be readily available within one’s own home and lack the risks and uncertainties of real life experiences, then this is an appealing alternative. The film also made a note about the importance of showing a world and a type of experience to someone to successfully increase social awareness and empathy. Again, though, if we are able to understand the previously unrecognized or inaccessible experience of the other in a ‘virtual’ domain that does not involve direct contact with the other, then what is the true achievement?

Unless virtual reality can allow for mental travel in a dreamlike fashion to far-off places, intense “peak” experiences, and cross-cultural exchanges with a drive to go out and experience more in the real world, then it does not solve the issue of the insular, isolated society. So how can virtual reality function to actually bring people more meaningfully out into the world and encourage them to connect more richly and deeply with one another?

These are just some initial thoughts, and I am very open to others’ ideas, feedback, and comments.

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