Feature

First Time Virtual Reality Reactions From My 64-Year-Old Father

by Mike Futter on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:30 AM

When it comes to virtual reality, I’m broken-in. I remember the excitement I had when putting on an HD Oculus Rift for the first time, but I’ve had so many VR experiences that I can’t recapture that virgin amazement.

When Samsung offered to loan us a Samsung Gear VR unit, the first thing I thought of was seeing my family’s reactions. Having a Gear VR in the house, even for a short time, gives me a chance to see how different people interact with the technology.

It has been interesting over the past few days to listen to their reactions, hear enthusiasm, and field questions and concerns. The end result is that everyone who I’ve had try it has been impressed, but there have been reservations, too.

My wife, who approaches technology from a more practical perspective than I do was impressed with Gear VR. She was the least enthusiastic of the four people who I have had use it.

Part of the problem was that the interface froze up the first time. I had to fiddle with the head-mounted display, take the phone out, put it back in, and get her started again. 

Despite that, once she got under way and I could help talk her through the navigation (not being able to see the menus is a challenge), she had a positive reaction. Unfortunately, I probably didn’t distribute the weight correctly on the HMD and it was uncomfortable for her. I suspect we’ll have better luck next time.

Samsung and Oculus recommend virtual reality for people age 13 and older. I’ll admit that I have cautiously disregarded those rules for the kids. The’ve only used the Gear VR for a short amount of time, as I didn’t want to deprive them of the experience.

Both were extremely enthusiastic. My son, who is six, is a technology fiend. I had no doubt he would be on board immediately.

My 11-year-old daughter tends more toward her mother’s practical approach. She uses her iPod Touch to listen to music and chat with friends. Her Kindle Fire is for books and Netflix. Her 3DS gets some use, but not nearly as much as it used to.

She’s not interested in the Gear VR for games. She just loves the photos and 360-degree videos, and has been asking to give the HMD another go at every opportunity.

The most surprising response came from my father. I wasn’t sure what he’d think of the technology. He’s never been averse to computers, and he used to love playing Top Gun on the NES with me.

But at the same time, neither of my parents understood my post-pubescent love of gaming until I started working in the field. My Dad, to this day, jokingly calls the GameBoy the “Game Child” (quite egalitarian, I know). 

He also coined the term “Nintendo Attitude,” which was (and still is when he deals with my kids) an assertion that playing games can lead to mouthing off. It also carries a warning that a bad attitude can lead to the loss of gaming privileges, so I admit I’ve used the term with my kids on more than one occasion.

We also tell stories about one of my father’s earliest experiences with Windows. We were waiting for him to come up for dinner one night shortly after bringing home our Leading Edge desktop with a 386 processor, Windows 3.1, and an 80MB hard drive. 

He finally came up in a huff and could only tell me that “the damn computer stopped working.” After dinner I went downstairs to find that he had opened so many windows that the computer just… gave up. We laugh about it today, but that night I heard my share of profanity. I can assure that his skill with computers has improved greatly and he continues to teach himself more.

With all of that in mind, you can understand why I wasn’t sure how he’d react to virtual reality. Would he see at as an evolution of handheld gaming, something in which he doesn’t have much interest? Or would he admire it for the clear wonder of the technology. 

Watch for yourself:

He spent quite a while using the Gear VR, exploring all of the movie clips and the photos. During our visit, we also talked about television. He’s an HBO subscriber and didn’t know about HBO Go. He was interested, which made me realize that for him, pairing those two things would be a magic bullet.

He’d be able to watch on-demand programming wherever he wants in the house with the completely self-contained HMD. Whether apps like Netflix and Sling TV are in the cards for virtual reality (even as a virtual cinema experience) is something we won’t know for a while, but just the potential suggests that VR might have a broad market if it’s communicated well.

I’ve still got my reservations about virtual reality. We still don’t know the true cost of entry and the content libraries for launch (a crucial factor) are still largely unknown. But this experiment did convince me of one thing: it might not be quite as difficult as I thought to entice a non-enthusiast audience.