Filippa and Lina are two Master’s students in the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. They are researching how social VR users express identity in virtual environments, and they wish to conduct interviews. Filippa told me via Discord chat:
We are hoping to learn more about how social VR users express identity in virtual environments because we think that it is the future, and we have noticed more and more physical retailers that are showing an interest in selling virtual goods. Our field is called consumer culture theory, so we believe that there is a link between our possessions and identities.
There is a fine art (some would call it, a black art) to giving a VR demonstration to someone who has never been in virtual reality before. And, as someone who does it fairly often, I wanted to share some of what I have learned (often, the hard way!) in giving a number of people at my workplace (the University of Manitoba Libraries) their first taste of VR.
In fact, just last week, I had a recently retired coworker (who had never experienced virtual reality before) come in, at my invitation, to try it out for himself. My current set-up at work is an HTC Vive Pro 2 Office Kit, with the traditional Vive “wand” hand controllers, the same set-up which I am proposing for the virtual reality lab project that I am currently working on. (The standard Vive controllers feel more like tools, as opposed to hand extensions, and I can only imagine how much more of a newbie learning curve setting up the Knuckles controllers would be, given how much fidgeting and adjusting I have to do to get my set at home to work “just right”).
Here are some of my tips, tricks, and recommendations for giving inexperienced users a virtual reality demo.
Make sure all your equipment is ready to go and up-to-date. For example, if you use a headset with Steam, run SteamVR ahead of time and let it update. Make sure that any software you plan to demo is fully updated to the latest version. Fully charge your headset and/or hand controllers to ensure that they are ready. Nothing is worse than having to end a session early because a device has run out of power!
Explain what VR sickness is and emphasize that they should stop, and NOT push through it, when/if they start to feel sick. Also impress upon the new user that it takes time and patience to build up your tolerance in a VR headset; expecting an inexperienced user to be able to handle anything over 15 minutes at one stretch is too much. It’s also very important to give the new user time between separate virtual reality experiences, even if it is only a few minutes.
Adjust the headset to the user (head straps, interpupillary distance/IPD dial, etc.), explain to the user how to put the headset on and take it off, and practice that first. You want to do everythig you can to make sure that the new user’s experience is optimal. I have found that it is better to have the user learn how to make adjustments to the headset themselves, although I may fiddle with the head straps and IPD dial a bit, after they have put it on, if they are having problems with the comfort or view.
Start off with an app where the new user just sits and looks around. When I used to give demos at work using my Oculus Rift, I always started new users with a couple of introductory VR programs, where they did not have to use the hand controllers. One of them which I can recommend highly is the excellent Introduction to Virtual Reality by Felix & Paul Studios*, which consists of a series of three-dimensional videos of various scenes, e.g. Cirque de Soleil jugglers; a boat in a floating market; a scene inside a round Mongolian yurt where a family is sharing a meal. The reason I start off with something like this is because I want the user to get comfortable with the immersive aspect of the technology (how the scene changes in the headset when you turn your head, look up and down, etc.), before adding on the hand controllers.
Do NOT put the new and inexperienced user in any app which might make him nauseous! It’s tempting to throw the newbie into the deep end, just to get a reaction from him; I get it. However, do you want to be responsible for making him ill in his first virtual reality experience, and perhaps souring him on VR forever? Save Aircarand the roller coaster simulations for later, once they have gotten their VR legs. 😜
For the demo to my retired coworker last week, on my new Vive Pro 2 headset, I tried to find something similar to Felix & Paul’s Introduction to Virtual Reality, only to realize that all the Felix & Paul titles were Meta/Oculus exclusives. Damn! After a frustrating hunt through Steam to find something similar, and striking out, I decided to use a favourite tropical beach world in VRChat, called Deep Blue. I wanted something relaxing for a first experience; getting into a VR headset can be stressful! (Note that I had already logged into VRChat, and set up the world before my coworker arrived; all I had to do is get him set up and put on his headset.)
First, I just had him sit on the dock and look around, to get used to the way it felt to have the headset on, and how the view changed when he looked around. Then, after 5-10 minutes or so, I gave him the hand controllers, and explained how the buttons on them worked, and had him move around in the environment: explore the beach hut, walk along the beach, even go underwater to see the sea turtle!
Then, after I was satisfied that he was handling that experience well, without any VR sickness, I loaded up Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR. This app nicely illustrates one of the main selling points of virtual reality, in my mind: the ability to visit and explore places that you would not normally be able to go see, unless you bought a plane ticket! Also, the app has very simple, teleporter-type movement control, which is easy to explain to a new user (and the difference in movement controls between the first and second apps is a good teaching moment to explain that every app is set up differently, and has different controls).
Next, I introduced my coworker to Google Earth VR, the virtual reality version of the already-familiar Google Earth. What I like about Google Earth VR is that you can always see at a glance how the buttons on the hand controllers work, and there are easy-to-navigate menus with some of the most popular locations, such as the statue of Christ the Redeemer high over the city of Rio de Janeiro. I just let him explore to his heart’s content, wherever he wanted to go! He really was amazed how he could zoom out and see the entire Earth from outer space, too.
My VR demo with my retired coworker went so well, that we actually did move on to Aircar, piloting a flying car in a rainy, Blade Runner-esque urban sci-fi environment (although I very strongly impressed upon him that he should stop as soon as he began to feel sick, which he did). He loved it! Some people take to VR like a duck to water. (However, see point 6 above; for 95-99% of first-time users, this is a BAD idea. And, on the other end of the spectrum, I have also had to stop VR demos after ten minutes because of VR sickness. Monitor your newbie carefully and stop as soon as they feel nauseous! This is not something you can just “push through,” trust me.)
I hope that you found this list of do’s and don’ts to be helpful! And if you have any particular programs, platforms, or apps which you like to use to give newbies demos, please drop a comment and let us know what they are and why you like them. Thanks!
A special thank you to John, for being my guinea pig, and the first person to whom I have demoed my new HTC Vive Pro 2 headset at work!
*You can experience this title in 360° video on YouTube:
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I have, over the years, developed a well-founded aversion to Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook), its business practices based on surveillance capitalism, and its products and services.
So, it might come as a surprise to some people, to learn that I have decided to purchase a shiny new Meta Quest 2 wireless virtual reality headset. Why did I do this? Several points, which I will take one at a time.
Well, first and foremost, Meta blinked and backtracked after much criticism; you no longer need to set up a Facebook account to use the Meta Quest 2 (although you still have the option to link your Facebook or Instagram account to your Meta account, if you so wish). Instead, you set up a new Meta account for your device, as explained in the following YouTube video from six months ago:
Second, as you may remember, I am still working on a project to set up a virtual reality lab within the University of Manitoba Libraries. While my original proposal was to purchase and install four high-end PCVR workstations using HTC Vive Pro 2 tethered headsets, we are now looking at offering faculty, staff, and students a wider variety of headsets for use in their teaching, learning, and research activities.
It’s probably not wise to purchase only one kind of VR hardware, which leaves you vulnerable if a company decides to shut down (although this is highly unlikely in the case of both HTC and Meta!). Best not to put all our eggs into one basket; life tends to throw all kinds of unexpected curveballs at you!
One unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is that I had several successive years’ worth of travel and expense funds carried over and built up, some of which had to be spent by a certain deadline, or I would lose the money. So part of that funding went towards a brand-new work PC with a good graphics card, and an HTC Vive Pro 2 Office Kit, which of course is one of the models we are looking at purchasing for the virtual reality lab. However, I still had some money left over that I had to spend soon, and I decided to also buy a Meta Quest 2 as another testing unit, since we are considering also using that device in the virtual reality lab.
Third: while hunting around for easy-to-use, introductory demonstrations of virtual reality for those coworkers who have never experienced VR before, like Felix & Paul Studio’s excellent Introduction to Virtual Reality, I discovered to my great dismay that many apps were only available for Meta devices, and not available on SteamVR at all!
In other words, some of the programs which students might want to use force us to purchase headsets on which they can run. This “walled garden” approach is antithetical to setting up an academic VR lab, where ideally we should be able to run any app on any headset. However, we have little choice, given the way the marketplace is currently structured (and especially given Meta’s outsized influence, with a little under 20 million Quests of various kinds sold, which makes it by far the most popular VR headset).
The University of Manitoba’s School of Nursing recently opened the first virtual reality lab on campus, and they are only using Meta Quest 2 headsets. This lab is currently training nursing students using UbiSim software, with plans to expand its offerings over time (more info here on Mastodon). And the U of M’s Computer Science department is also planning to use Meta Quest 2s in its planned VR lab.
In other words, you can choose not to dance with the 900-pound gorilla in the room (i.e., Meta), but it will severely limit your choice of dance partners! And that is why, despite my lingering antipathy towards Mark Zuckerberg and his company’s business practices, we will likely be buying a number of Meta Quest 2 headsets to add to our planned virtual reality laboratory at the University of Manitoba Libraries, starting with a single test unit purchased on my travel and expense funds for work.
Once again this March, the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference (VWBPE for short) will take place in Second Life, running from March 23rd to 25th, 2023. According to the EventBrite description of the conference:
This year, we celebrate Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education’s 16th Annual International Conference on Education in Virtual and Augmented Reality. The main conference takes place March 23-25, 2023, with immersive experiences happening two weeks before and after the main event.
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a global grassroots community event focusing on education in immersive virtual environments. This open conference is organized by the education community to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place using virtual and augmented environments. Educators and content creators alike are encouraged to attend, present, and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games.
To the best ability possible, VWBPE provides educational and networking opportunities that are relevant to educational curriculum development utilizing virtual environments and “best practices”.
helping to build community through extension of learning best practices to practical application of those ideas and techniques;
providing networking opportunities for educators and the communities that help support education; and
providing access to current innovations, trends, ideas, case studies, and other best practices for educators and the communities that help support education.
Over 1,200 people from 30 countries attended our last conference in March 2022. In just the past several years, over 200 hours of video footage has been captured and has been made available free to the academic community in addition to other video broadcasts, with thousands of views.
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a meaningful way for presenters to share their research and experience about the rich learning systems in virtual worlds and games. This free online conference is produced entirely by volunteers.
This open conference is organized by the Second Life community to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place using virtual worlds. Everyone is encouraged to present, attend and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games…
Over 2,000 attendees representing 90 countries participate in 150-200 online presentations including theoretical research, application of best practices, virtual world tours, hands-on workshops, discussion panels, machinima presentations, and poster exhibits. You do not have to be a formal academic to participate.
While the VWBPE conference proceedings are apparently published as the Journal of Virtual Studies published by Rockcliffe University Consortium, my Firefox web browser threw up a security warning when I tried to access the journal’s webpage:
Indeed, Rockcliffe University Consortium (a gold-level sponsor of VWBPE, and a primary organizer of the conference) is a “university” which, as far as I am aware, exists only within the virtual world of Second Life, as opposed to an accredited, real-world university. According to their website:
Rockcliffe is a registered non-profit C-Corp in the United States, however we are not a 501(c)3. Structurally, we are organized along the lines of a B-Corp. The organization is made up completely of volunteers. The entire organization is a collection of global SOHO [small office/home office] locations tied together through a common technical infrastructure that serves as a proxy for a brick and mortar location. While the majority of our volunteers are from the United States, Rockcliffe also [has] volunteers based in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
While those who seek the reassurance of academic rigour and scholarly structure might turn up their noses at a self-proclaimed Second Life “university” with a glitchy journal website, I would remind you that the current organization also embraces those virtual world educators and researchers who might otherwise feel excluded from a professional, academic conference. And I can attest that I have attended some truly excellent presentations at previous VWBPE conferences over the past 15 years, such as this 2021 talk by Dr. Marie Vans about social VR.