As the personal computer boomed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a small faction of sci-fi geeks and gamers tried to bring the endless potential of virtual reality (VR) to life. But the technology was too rudimentary; by the mid 1990s, most in the industry had closed up shop. At its core, VR is the ultimate manifestation of the collision between our physical and digital worlds.
But the digital technology must be advanced enough that it is able to trick the human mind — a pretty intelligent computer that can detect the slightest delta from how we perceive our physical world and cause the entire digital reality to fall apart.
We’ve all used primitive VR at arcades or hokey “interactive” tourist traps. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a different world, it makes you feel nauseous. The imagined VR in the 1992 horror film Lawnmower Man hardly foreshadowed a future where the tech can induce an altered state of reality born from an incredibly designed digital experience. It still just felt like a gimmick, exciting more for its imagined sci-fi potential than its execution.
But everything has changed. Sparked by a progression in technology, VR is now poised to become a mainstream platform that completely reinvents how we work, play, share and collaborate. In 2016, headsets from the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and the HTC Vive will all hit the market and give consumers access to experiences that once only existed in the Matrix and the cyberpunk stories of Philip K. Dick.
According to a report from market research and consulting firm Tractica, consumer spending on VR hardware and software could reach $21.8 billion by the year 2020.
We are at the dawn of the age of VR. Strap on your headset, it’s going to be a wild ride.