Hands free

handsfreeThe more I see of the forthcoming VR revolution, the more disillusioned with it I become and the less certain I am that it will really come to anything, other than having applications in industry and science.

In particular, the potential for VR to have any real clout within a virtual world type environment seems to me to be diminishing rapidly. The recent sneak peaks of Sansar and the build tools we can expect to be using in the next generation SL left me decidedly unimpressed and thinking that having a platform capable of utilising the latest in possible interface devices doesn’t necessarily mean that we should relentlessly pursue that particular route, and we certainly shouldn’t do so at the expense of losing some of the more traditional, but tried and tested tools that already exist.

Manipulating objects on a screen by using any sort of haptic device that’s going to have you wiggling your fingers and waving your hands around may well be ideally suited to a surgeon undertaking virtual surgery, or to a variety of engineering applications, but I really can’t see that it fits in terribly well with knocking something together in a virtual world. Building anything in SL can be tricky enough as it is, but you still have a fair degree of freedom to cope with what’s going on around you and the flexibility to work with whatever device you have in whatever real world environment you happen to be in. I can quite easily get on with quietly and unobtrusively putting together a piece of inworld architecture on my laptop in a coffee shop, or on the train… I certainly couldn’t do that if it required me to wave my arms around like Magnus Pyke, particularly if it was also a prerequisite for me to don a pair of VR goggles to work.

Have you noticed too that whenever you see someone demonstrating this new technology, it’s never sat down at a desk or with a laptop balanced on their knees, but they always seem to be stood up, with plenty of space to manoeuvre. Again, it’s not quite the scenario that I imagine most of us would find relates well to SL.

The creative process in SL can, of course, be quite traumatic at times, and although we have a number of tools at our disposal to help manage some of the annoyances that come our way whenever we just want to settle down and concentrate, there are occasions when it’s not such a big deal. There are certainly times during a building session that I really don’t want to be interrupted by random IMs and notices, but there are other times that I’ll be quite happy to chat to a friend whilst I potter. Simple enough to do when you have a keyboard and a mouse… Not quite so straightforward when you’re plugged into the matrix and every move of your fingers is replicated on screen!

Now, I’m all for progress and for exploring the various new devices that appear on the scene. Some are nothing short of brilliant, although the truth is, even the most brilliant are often fairly limited to a very narrow scope of brilliance, rather than a broad range of application. Touch screens, stylus and pad, haptic devices, 3D headsets all have their place, and work extremely well under optimal circumstances, but few if any, have the flexibility and sheer universality of mouse and keyboard.

If there’s one way in which SL is superior to so many other platforms it’s because it doesn’t necessarily demand your full attention, all the time, neither are you tied to the screen. If the phone rings or you fancy rustling up a quick crisp sandwich, you can just walk away secure in the knowledge that the worst that can really happen in your absence is having your Avatar humorously pushed off a cliff! Abandon the action during a game, or whilst performing virtual surgery on the other side of the planet, and it could be a whole different story! Whilst I’m inworld, I can quite easily also be surfing the net, dabbling in Photoshop or doing the hoovering… As far as everyone else is concerned, I’m still dancing; and when I’m ready to settle back down in front of the screen and get back into the groove, I don’t have to untangle a mess of wires, re-attach myself to a bunch of input devices, or otherwise mess around at all.

The revolution may indeed be coming, but I remain unconvinced that SL, Sansar, or whatever else of the same school that may be out there are really that suited to the virtual new world order.

You won’t find me throwing away my mouse just yet!

s. x

I’m just an old fashioned girl with an old fashioned mind
Not sophisticated, I’m the sweet and simple kind.
I want an old fashioned house, with an old fashioned fence
And an old fashioned millionaire.
Eartha Kitt – Just An Old Fashioned Girl

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