Well, I’m happy to report that I was finally able to visit Sinespace in my Oculus Rift VR headset! The latest version of the client software seems to work much better for me.
Now, all is far from perfect. I’m no longer sitting in the floor, but I still seem to looking out from within my avatar’s chest rather than his head, and shorter than the other avatars around me. Every time I tried to turn right, I turned left instead! And the screen of the pop-up user interface is a little too close to my eyes for my liking. When I pulled up the Explore screen, it twitched enough to make me feel sick.
But it’s a start. I can now officially add Sinespace to my list of virtual worlds that support VR!
I have been up-front about my lifelong battles with clinical depression on this blog. I’m doing my small part to help fight the negative societal stigma against mental health problems, by sharing my story. If doing so helps one other person who may be struggling, then it’s worth it to me. And a great many people are struggling. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada:
Mood disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the general population. According to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health, 5.4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over reported symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder in the previous 12 months, including 4.7% for major depression and 1.5% for bipolar disorder.
I’ve been under a doctor’s treatment for depression since my mid-twenties, and I probably would have benefitted from seeking treatment even sooner than that. At times, my episodes of depression have been so severe that I have had to go on extended sick leaves from work. I’ve even been hospitalized twice when I was at my very worst. I have had to work very hard to crawl back from the edge of the black pit of despair, more than once in my life.
I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.
I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!
Some would no doubt argue that too much use of a VR headset is isolating, which I can understand if you are only playing solo games, or spending innumerable hours immersed in VR. However, in many games, and especially in most social VR spaces, you are often interacting with other people, which would counteract the isolation aspect somewhat. I also strongly recommend taking the time to build up your tolerance to VR, starting from sessions as short as 10-15 minutes, and building up slowly from that. I am a little concerned when I hear about people who boast logging 5, 6, 7, 8, or even more hours at one stretch in VR. Everything in moderation is the key here.
And when you’re too depressed to set foot outside your front door, it can sometimes be easier to slip on a VR headset to visit people and places! No need to get dressed up, or to put on your “happy face” to face the world. There have often been times in the past when I have felt extremely anxious, and I was able to load up the Nature Treks VR app in my Oculus Rift and relax on a calm, sandy beach lined with swaying palm trees, listening to the pounding surf, or just put myself within a mountain-ringed meadow of wildflowers, watching birds and butterflies. Much cheaper than an actual flight to a vacation spot! And you can revisit any time you like, with very little fuss.
Findings favor VR exercise in alleviating anxiety and depression symptomology. However, existing evidence is insufficient to support the advantages of VR exercise as a standalone treatment over traditional therapy in the alleviation of anxiety and depression given the paucity of studies, small sample sizes, and lack of high-quality research designs. Future studies may build upon these limitations to discern the optimal manner by which to employ VR exercise in clinical settings.
So more research work needs to be done. Based on my own experience, and stories I have heard from others, I wouldn’t be surprised if/when scientists do discover some sort of benefit to using VR as a form of therapy for those who suffer from depression and anxiety. Perhaps some day soon, your mental health professional may prescribe a VR app instead of (or in addition to) anti-depressant medication and talk therapy!
And if you are suffering from a mood disorder, there’s absolutely no shame in reaching out for help. Doing so has made all the difference in my life. If I can survive, so can you!
So I am here today to tell anyone who can hear me: if you suspect that you have a mental illness, there is no reason to be ashamed, or embarrassed, and most importantly, you do not need to be afraid. You do not need to suffer. There is nothing noble in suffering, and there is nothing shameful or weak in asking for help. This may seem really obvious to a lot of you, but it wasn’t for me, and I’m a pretty smart guy, so I’m going to say it anyway: There is no reason to feel embarrassed when you reach out to a professional for help, because the person you are reaching out to is someone who has literally dedicated their life to helping people like us live, instead of merely exist.
If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:
When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers: “Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”
I just realized today that there is one fairly popular social VR/virtual world platform I haven’t covered in this blog yet, and that is Rec Room by the company Against Gravity, which was first released in 2016.
Here’s the description of the social VR app from its Oculus Home description:
Welcome to Rec Room, the virtual reality social club where you play active games with friends from all around the world. Customize your appearance, then party up to play multiplayer games like Paintball, 3D Charades, Disc Golf, and even four player co-op adventures! Or just hang out in The Lounge (free membership required). Plus new activities and fun stuff added frequently.
The first thing I noticed about Rec Room was the avatars, which are blocky and cartoony, basically a head, torso and hands, without arms, legs or a neck.
Now, those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have a pet peeve about cartoony avatars (hello, Facebook Spaces!). However, in the case of Rec Room, there is more of an emphasis on an all-ages, children-friendly environment, so I’m more willing to accept cartoon avatars. (Kind of like those Saturday morning cartoons I used to spend all Saturday morning watching as a kid. Is that still a thing?)
The emphasis in Rec Room is on fun and games. The main room is a gymnasium, which is usually full of other avatars running around and yelling (mostly children). There are about a dozen doors leading to separate game-playing areas: everything from disc golf to paintball to laser tag, even charades! You can earn in-world currency by completing activities and completing daily challenges, which you can then spend on exclusive merchandise (like a red fireman’s hat) that you can wear.
If you’re looking for something different and fun, Rec Room might just be up your alley. It’s available as a free app for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR headset. (Note that there is no desktop-only version of this app; you do need to have one of the three VR headsets to play.)
This is a very interesting video showing off a new omnidirectional treadmill which allows you actually take steps and walk around in virtual reality experiences! Apparently, this treadmill actually appears in the movie Ready Player One. According to the description in the YouTube video from Adam Savage’s Tested channel:
We step onto the Infinadeck, the omnidirectional treadmill seen in the movie Ready Player One. This treadmill lets you walk freely in virtual reality, in any direction. We learn about how it works and give our impressions on the state of the technology today
They actually talk about using this 500-lb. rig for fitness applications and firefighter training. Very cool—and probably also very expensive! (No price for this product has been announced yet.)
It would be so cool to be able to walk around inside Sansar experiences or High Fidelity domains, though!
One of the problems in virtual reality is that the current level of hardware is still somewhat bulky and uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. I get tangled up in the cable, on warm days sometimes it gets sweaty inside the headset, etc. My personal limit when I wear my Oculus Rift VR headset is about two hours, then I definitely need to take it off and rejoin the real world! Most people probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) use a VR headset for more than an hour a day.
So, how would you feel if you spent all day, every day in VR for a whole month? Someone in Italy is doing just that. His name is Enea Le Fons and he is a VR developer.
And he loves VR, he loves experimenting and he also loves opensource and free software. He has this idea of making the world better, of letting people live freely and exchanging their expertise. He has this idea of a VR ecosystem that is completely free of chains. So he proposed to HTC to live 30 days in VR in a way that in these 30 days he could develop very cool things like AI bots and VR locomotion systems while being inside virtual reality with other people helping him remotely… and then share everything developed there to the community as open source software. Isn’t it cool? Yes, it is. That’s why HTC couldn’t do anything but accepting his proposal. This way has born the #30DaysInVR project.
Of course he won’t stay 24h a day in VR for 30 days, this would be potentially too extreme for his health at this point of the technology (even if he actually told me that he would really love to stay for a month completely in VR). He has started with five hours of immersion each day and has incremented the duration of his immersions until he has arrived to many hours a day. That’s impressive.
It looks like he is going to document his 30-day journey on YouTube. Here is the video from Day 1:
And you can follow him on various social media:
Website (although there don’t seem to be a lot of active links on it)
Sinespace has launched their virtual reality beta. As I wrote about earlier, the last time I tried out their VR client using my Oculus Rift, it was still too buggy for me. But maybe you’ll have better luck. If you do, please let me know.
You can download their OpenVR viewer for Windows here.
David Hall shared the following YouTube video on the official Sansar Discord server. Destin, the creator of this video, was able to try out a new haptic glove in virtual reality. He admits he’s a VR skeptic, but the sensory feedback of this haptic glove was so realistic that he was won over. He could actually feel each of the feet of a virtual spider as it crawled over his palm!
Obviously, it’s a prototype, and not yet available for consumers. (Check out the giant size of the cable connecting the glove to the PC!) But it’s still very, very cool. Something to look forward to in future, perhaps within the next decade!
Here’s the company blurb, taken from the YouTube video description:
HaptX is a multidisciplinary team of engineers based in San Luis Obispo, CA and Seattle, WA that builds advanced haptic technology. Their first product, HaptX Gloves, brings touch feedback to VR with unprecedented realism, enabling a new category of industrial training simulations. Founded by Jake Rubin and Dr. Bob Crockett in 2012, HaptX won’t stop until you can’t tell what’s real from what’s virtual. Learn more at haptx.com.