The internet had a good laugh when Palmer Luckey appeared on the cover of Time, looking joyous and fantastically awkward. (I still think every bit of that cover was an intentional, self-aware embracement of the inherent silliness of virtual reality, but regardless, it appears to have backfired…if getting memed can be considered backfiring in 2015.)
It was a harsh reminder to the blindly bullish VR industry that, yes, the “looking stupid problem” is still standing in the way between personal, 3-D immersive headsets and their global, Matrix-style domination.
But a new ad featuring the Vive–the upcoming headset by Valve and HTC–illustrates the potential whole-family, living room appeal of VR. Namely, it looks a lot like a party of people playing with the Nintendo Wii.
In a demonstration of the game Fantastic Contraption–a game in which players have to build whimsical objects to make their way across the map–one player shuffles their way around the room, donning a headset, while everyone on the couch can watch their progress on the television, cheering and laughing along the way.
It’s a crafted ad by the studios behind the game, but it makes a believable point: In this sort of group spectacle, where everyone will eventually get their turn to look like an idiot in front of the room, VR becomes a modern day rendition of charades, pin the tail on the donkey, or even karaoke. It’s easy to imagine the late aughts repeating themselves: Middle America picked up a strange and foreign piece of technology–motion controllers–to mime their way through tennis and bowling at Wii parties. The hook wasn’t just that the Wii was fun. It was that it was stupid-looking fun. Don’t you remember that person at every party who realized they could bowl just as well by flicking their wrist on a couch? They ruined the vibe for everyone.
There’s never been a doubt that VR will take off with a serious contingent in the hardcore PC community, because VR so ably replaces the solitary experience of a computer monitor. But if VR can invade the social experience of a living room–no doubt with the help of console manufacturers like Sony and Microsoft who are already plugged into the TV–that’s when we’ll all be making grandma grab the headset and put the bird wings on.
This post has been updated to clarify that HTC/Valve did not fund or offer input on the commercial.