Never Tried VR? Neither Had Our Writer. What is it Really Like for a First Time User?

My First Experience with VR – What To Expect  

HTC Vive Equipment & Steam Tutorial

Special thanks to Eric Kaltman, CLIR Post-Doctoral Fellow for Data Curation, and Emma Slayton, Sorrells Library Faculty for Data Curation, Visualization, and GIS for their assistance in equipment, software, and information during the VR Office Hour.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (or AR and VR) are beginning to make their way into modern education, healthcare, museums, & concerts. VR’s current growth and newfound accessibility have transformed gaming, learning, and the arts into a literal immersive experience by bringing your senses into the virtual setting. Upon first examination of the equipment & features, the idea can seem quite intimidating and expensive to integrate into education or the arts. If properly integrated, however, it greatly enhances an experience and grants a new level of understanding and perception of an arts or education piece to your audience. If you never experienced VR before but are interested in bringing it to your classroom, arts experience, or research, then here are some things to expect:

My experience took place at the Sorrells Library Den in Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon University. Office hours were scheduled for the entire Spring semester as a means for students to explore and research VR space and equipment. The VR space had a large projection screen with cameras in each corner to record the user in the space. The floor was taped in a spot known as the “Play Area” to lay out the room boundaries.

The equipment I used included an HTC Vive Headset, headphones, and two Vive hand controllers. While the equipment is costly, it allows for a richer, more-complete VR experience. You should expect to have the VR equipment strapped to your head and around your wrists to prevent the equipment from slipping off or being accidentally thrown. It will also be necessary to adjust the video projection until it matches your eye sight. Even if the projection is slightly off, it detracts from the experience.

In terms of the controllers, there are quite a few buttons that users need to learn & navigate. Some may have difficulty with the Grip buttons to the side; it is easy to accidentally press them. As with any new device, however, there is a learning curve. I assume with enough practice, the equipment’s curve will be shorter than expected.

Image: Author Trying VR for the First Time

Image: Author Trying VR for the First Time

With these devices, 2.5 of your senses are transferred into the new reality: sight, sound, and some of touch because of the controllers & where your body is in terms of the room boundaries. There is a shift of perception as you are half-placed in the virtual world while your other senses somewhat remain in reality. Therefore, with the complete VR equipment set, it is important to note that a user may need time to transition from VR back to reality after a particularly engaging experience.

Steam VR Tutorial

My VR experience took place on a free-to-download platform called Steam. The platform’s original purpose is for purchasing and posting games. However, there is also a social media aspect where users can connect with friends and collect trophies and badges. For a new user within Steam VR, I highly recommend starting out with the Steam VR Tutorial by Valve.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

In the tutorial, you are introduced to a levitating, spherical robot. The robot, or the Virtual Reality Assistance and Education Core, is designed in reference to the popular video game series called Portal.

The Core takes a few minutes to guide you on how to navigate the VR space. This is vital because it teaches the user how to be safe within the space they are in and prevent bumping into objects or walls in the real world. The Core also teaches you how to use the controllers, which include the button names and their typical features within VR. Examples of these includes the Grip buttons, Trigger buttons, the Menu buttons, and the Trackpad.

Image: Author using VR contlrolers during the tutorial

Image: Author using VR contlrolers during the tutorial

For anyone that is skeptical about VR’s quality, the tutorial alone is the answer as it provides a good example to its video & space capabilities. Within the massive dome setting, the space feels incredibly vast, almost as if the room had greatly expanded in real life. Users will want to look around and explore the space. There is an option as well in the tutorial to create and interact with objects such as balloons. Users can watch them float away, punch a balloon, or even pop multiple balloons with a laser.

I recommend the tutorial as a great way to introduce anyone to VR, regardless of age and whether they are entering VR for the first time or just watching along. Something the tutorial does not cover includes picking up objects with the controllers or “hopping” to other areas in the space to replace walking. This may be because the tutorial is only designed to be a few minutes so that a user can start exploring VR immediately. However, this is a vital part to many experiences’ features, one which I do not recommend skipping as you integrate it into your arts or education space.

If you are creating a VR experience for your institution there is a reasonable chance it will be your guest’s first VR experience. Crafting an experience that is intuitive, has a well designed introduction, and an appropriate time to readjust to the “real” world afterwards can help make their first experience a great one.