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The most popular use of VR may not be video games

The future of VR gaming will soon be upon us, but gamers may be overlooking a growing industry that's already here: 360-degree video, the true new medium.

Perhaps this may be a strange point of view for a virtual reality gaming enthusiast, but I have a strong belief that VR isn't going to take off with games.

Instead, VR will begin with 360-degree videos. Virtual reality film already has dedicated websites, downloadable trailers, and companies who specialize in it. It's the perfect medium - different enough to be innovative, but not so different that it's terrifying to technophobes. It's amazing how enthusiasts have already dedicated their livelihoods to a medium that isn't even available yet to the common public.

Games are, of course, a prime, lucrative form of entertainment. It's a huge industry that has respect from investors and producers. But the medium itself is still new, commonly misunderstood, and not respected as highly as older media like film. When you throw virtual reality into that mix, you're going deeper down a niche rabbit hole that even many hardcore gamers are wary of. Video games are experiences talked about with friends, but virtual reality as we know it now is something that is far too expensive and personal to be a popular talking point.

"It's amazing how enthusiasts have already dedicated their livelihoods to a medium that isn't even available yet to the common public."

When I talked about my experience with virtual reality, what I really wanted to say was how my mind was blown. Trying to communicate my experience was difficult and unrelatable to those who never tried it.

The most popular use of VR may not be video games, but film. For now, I think VR is most accessible, with 360-degree videomaking. And it will take off the more media companies embrace it. A great start comes from PBS, the educational and very respected media production house. PBS has released their own 360-degree video as an add-on for their TV series Gorongosa Park that is set in Mozambique, Africa. Titled "GORONGOSA PARK: Rebirth of Paradise VR," the video lets people rotate the camera wherever they please as the video plays. It's beautiful, unique, and easy to use.

The video is reminiscent of my VR experience and lets me "visit some of the diverse ecosystems," just as the video's description states. People don't need a VR machine to experience the video, so it's an amazing lead-in for the curious and skeptical. These videos push the limits of accessibility. By working seamlessly on YouTube, it opens up options to the open public.

Talking about virtual reality has been stressful for me, but only because I have such high expectations for it. I've always been a bit of a dreamer, loving the concept of digitally "leaving" the world. It's been everywhere where fantasy reigns: Speculative fiction, science fiction, games, anime, television, film, and all in-between. In fact, I was so absorbed with the specific idea of leaving that I never considered exploring the world I'm already in. 360-degree video equipment only costs a few thousand dollars to obtain, making it accessible to film production houses. It's probably the reason there are already dedicated websites and companies.

"In fact, I was so absorbed with the specific idea of leaving that I never considered exploring the world I'm already in."

For these reasons, I'm optimistic that we will get to the point where talking about virtual reality is as commonplace as talking about general gameplay. eSports is heading in that direction as it picks up steam, which was also a topic that used to be foreign to gamers. It's completely realistic to imagine the future of North America as one that resembles South Korea, where eSports is a mainstream activity and not having fiber optic cables is blasphemy. While the world embraces the outpouring of technological advancements, it also isn't too far-fetched to believe virtual reality could become mainstream enough to be bundled like controllers for a console.

But for now, even with the projections of VR adoption, I think it's completely rational to assume the most popular use of these VR machines will not be for gaming. For a nice list of 360-degree videos that include the two I included here, check out this article.

Have you enjoyed 360-degree video? Are you a documentary fan? Let me know what you think about the future of VR below.

Published Oct. 5th 2015

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