Fabian Giesen, a contractor who had been working on Valve’s virtual reality team, recently resigned from the company. While people resign from jobs all the time, this particular instance is of great interest as it pinpoints the biggest concerns with the virtual reality movement. There is a fair chance that a VR-heavy future could become increasingly anti-social, moving away from the connectivity of today’s entertainment experiences. Here some of the highlights of Giesen’s letter:
Subject: I want out.
As the subject says, I would like to end my contract with Valve – preferably by
the end of the month, though I realize that’s probably too short of a notice.
Part of this has to do with the direction of the project. With AR, there’s a
variety of information display/visualization applications, all of which are at
the very least interesting and could turn out to be tremendously empowering in
various ways. The endpoint of VR, on the other hand – all engineering
practicalities of first aiming for a seemingly easier goal aside – seems to be
fundamentally anti-social, completing the sad trajectory of entertainment moving
further and further away from shared social experiences. (As I have mentioned
multiple times, I find the limited, formalized, abstracted and ultimately
alienated social interactions in most forms of online gaming to be immensely
So, at least as VR is concerned, while I find the tech interesting and
challenging, I am deeply ambivalent about what it leads to.
That is not the primary reason for this mail, but it certainly is a factor in
So, to make sure that’s properly unpacked: when I say that I think “VR is bad
news”, I am talking specifically about the VR-enabled MMORPG-esque shared
universes that cyberpunk has promised us :), not about the much wider and more
open-ended concept of “things we might be able to do with working VR headsets
once they exist”. And lest I be accused of setting up a strawman here, the VR
MMORPG universe really *is* what a lot of VR enthusiasts are hoping for, and
simultaneously what a lot of really smart people working on VR have repeatedly
(and publicly) declared to be their goal for VR.
The thing about VR is, it really *is* qualitatively different from other
While Valve hasn’t fully revealed its VR product, we do know that Sony’s Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift are well on the way to being consumer products. Virtual reality, like it or not, is going to be a part of the entertainment industry’s future. Will VR damage society irrevocably? That remains to be seen.