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Virtual Reality Startup: Yes, VR Is Antisocial. And That's Okay!

"In a world that's always fragmented and pseudo-connected, I look forward to that time alone."

Courtesy Oculus VR

The 2011 novel “Ready Player One” is beloved by many, many virtual reality enthusiasts (believe me, I’ve heard from them). It’s also, for anyone who’s never tried VR, a terrible advertisement for VR.

Without giving away too much, the book covers a years-long Willy Wonka-esque contest for an eccentric billionaire’s treasure, which takes place entirely in a virtual reality world created by that billionaire, called the OASIS. The narrator has a chance at the prize because of how good he is at video games, his memorization of 1980s pop culture and his ability to navigate the OASIS; but consider how the narrator describes his life in the real world:

… I paused and spent a moment staring at my immersion rig. I’d been so proud of all this high-tech hardware when I’d first purchased it. But over the past few months, I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. … In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.

So, who’s ready to buy into the VR future?

To be fair to the fans of “Ready Player One,” author Ernest Cline also penned several thought-provoking ideas about how things like public education would be changed by VR. But this depressing passage, which is never totally countered or contradicted by later events in the story, nails one of the greatest public perception problems around VR: That it is “antisocial,” or that it will take away from our ability to be social in the real world.

Several companies are trying to prove that VR can, in fact, enable meaningful social experiences (about which, much more to come). But Joel Newton, the co-founder of a VR-movie startup called The Virtual Reality Company, says VR is, indeed, antisocial. And that’s fine.

“Everyone worries about it being isolating, but in a world that’s always fragmented and pseudo-connected, I look forward to that time alone,” Newton said in an interview with Re/code. “I’m not as anti-alone as everybody seems to be.”

And that’s because VRC is coming at things from the Hollywood perspective, looking at VR as a medium in which specific types of content will be consumed in relatively short bursts. Newton compared isolating oneself in a VR headset to binging a TV show on Netflix like “House of Cards,” or holing up in one’s bedroom to read a book like, um, “Ready Player One.”

“Everybody watched ‘House of Cards’ by themselves because they were binge-viewing it at 3:00 am,” he said. “And we all wanted to talk about it the next day.”

Newton said VRC’s hope is that it will one day be the studio producing “the ‘House of Cards’ of VR.”

Curiously, one of the company’s advisers is Steven Spielberg, the same Steven Spielberg who’s going to direct an adaptation of “Ready Player One” for Warner Bros. Time will tell which way he and WB lean — to the social movie theater, or the antisocial VR headset.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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