My VR Stories on Medium

AltspaceVR avatar, author

I have been active in different aspects of Virtual Reality since 2016, although, like many others, I have been thinking and dreaming about it for decades.

I am ranked as a Top Writer on this topic on Medium and I like to write about it for a few reasons. The first is why I write anything — writing helps me think. But more than that, I feel that VR is an image problem. It is seen as a game for young people.

I write about VR to show that it is more than a game and that it has something to offer no matter how old you are.

New York Times and Reefer Madness

New York Times and VR Reefer Madness

September 30, 2021

I am highly critical of the characterization and direction of Virtual Reality as a Game. Games fit established publishing models. Mega-corporations dominating the tech cultural narrative present VR primarily as a Sales Opportunity for new digital consumer products because that is their lens.

I present VR as a Social Opportunity for new forms of working, playing, healing, and loving because new ways for people to be together is my lens. I think we need new ways of being together right now more than we need new digital consumer products, but of course I would say that.

Real Virtual Leaders

Real Virtual Leaders

September 20, 2021

If old cultural habits are ever going to be changed, now is the time for Social VR and especially for Horizon, because of the Social Create path the platform has chosen. The latent possibilities are so strong that something astonishingly right could happen.

Some people have found an emerging community in Horizon, especially people who like to build and are open to doing it cooperatively. They have formed a Horizon Creator Community. It has a Facebook Page, of course, with 576 members currently. The “About” page says:

We center diverse voices and foster collaborative learning through daily unique page content and hosting weekly events to engage our growing community in learning how to be better together.

My Day in the Immature Metaverse

My Day in the Immature Metaverse

August 10, 2021

The Metaverse is in its Unconnectedness Era.

Breathtaking virtual realities now exist, as isolated universes with little or no access to each other or to the outside world.

It is also not clear what exactly counts as a virtual reality, or more properly, a virtual reality platform. What is the ontological status of a multi-player game like Beat Saber, compared to Facebook’s Horizon, which lets people be creators, not simply players in a pre-set activity?

Meditating Socially in VR

Meditating Socially in VR

June 27, 2021

Everybody knows that meditation is personal, not interpersonal. It’s something you do inside yourself. How can it be social?

It’s not the same as a personal meditation practice and I’m still exploring what the differences are. What would it mean to say one approach is a higher quality meditation than another? What is the metric of quality in meditation?

VR Meditation TAPAS

VR Meditation TAPAS

April 27, 2021

Many people are meditating for their first time ever — in Virtual Reality. Having no other experience, sitting in some cartoon world with a brick on their head is meditation for some folks.

One OG response might be, ‘ha, they are clueless,’ which is judgmental, but not entirely incorrect.

I am an OG when it comes to meditation and I’m very pleased that people are discovering any kind of practice that helps them feel better so safely and easily. No one owns Meditation. No organization has the trademark.

Old Folks and VR

Old Folks and VR

April 2, 2021

AARP is into VR. AARPVR. Has a ring to it, doesn’t it.

They’ll be offering you their version of Virtual Reality at 55.

If not before — you want to stay in touch with your grandparents and parents in their assisted living community, don’t you? Well, we’ve got just the thing.

It’s called Alcove. Who says all the good names are taken? Alcove really nails it.

VR Reader

VR Reader

February 27, 2021

This article is a brief collection of readings, set in an overall commentary about virtual reality, primarily intended as a backgrounder for semi-old friends and colleagues who may be interested.

VR is growing but it is still a niche area, within which the non-gaming social platforms are another embedded niche. Furthermore, my involvement is primarily confined to one particular social VR platform, AltspaceVR, owned by Microsoft, making most of my experience the product of a niche within a niche within a niche.

On-Location Storytelling

On-Location Storytelling

February 3, 2021

Maybe some Worlds are so central to some stories that you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, but sometimes several places drive the story line. In VR, if the story moves, we can create worlds on the fly to serve as props and move with it.

I used my own 360 pictures of Angkor Wat to create a sequence of worlds, all within Angkor, to present, The Churning of the Sea of Milk, the cosmic story Angkor Wat is built to illustrate and to help believers experience directly.

Ways to Get Your Business into VR

Ways to Get Your Business into VR

January 11, 2021

Taking the plunge with everyone addressed an immediate need creatively, to connect employees during one of the most challenging years — and also served as a strong but tentative first step into a virtual world which, as a media company, Ovative will have to master.

The people that signed off on the extraordinary decision to buy everyone in the company an Oculus Quest 2 Headset saw clear short-term benefit and likely but necessarily unclear long-term opportunity.

Push Back on ‘Social Strikes Back’

Push Back on ‘Social Strikes Back’

January 7, 2021

Now we know what Social means to a16Z. It means a layer of experience designed to lure and lock-in consumers.

When I think of social media and, for example, fitness, I think of sharing my workout activities with friends, maybe even competing. It is difficult to be aware at all time that consumer media products are devices for aggregating, manipulating, and reselling the consumers who buy them, like me.

Bots, GPT-3, and Virtual Worlds

Bots, GPT-3, and Virtual Worlds

January 3, 2021

Under Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior policy (CIB), over two billion fake accounts were removed during just one sweep in 2019.

About 40% of all Internet traffic is bots.

Since they are part of the new landscape of influence and interaction, I want to understand how they are being used to help breed mistrust — but mostly I want to understand how they can be used to bring us together and make diverse virtual worlds more engaging.

Neverland Live

Never Land Live

December 26, 2020

Neverland Live!, based on the classic story by J. M. Barrie, was performed in a virtual theater, Saturday, December 27 at 7 pm pst. Written and directed for Virtual Reality by Mike the Myth, the twenty-six member cast held a full-capacity audience completely engaged for the entire one-hour performance. The themes of fantasy and reality — and how they can change as we age — are perfect for VR, which raises the same questions itself.

VR Birthday

VR Birthday

December 22, 2020

My plan for the day was pretty formless itself and when I noticed a cool looking jazz concert on the AltspaceVR Daily Events menu I knew what was coming next.

I know this must sound crazy to anyone who hasn’t been in a fully immersive Virtual World, but Saxy’s Jazz Club is right up there with any jazz club I’ve ever been to.

World Building for Semi-Old People

World Building for Semi-Old People

December 18, 2020

One of the main features of being Semi-Old is realizing you won’t get to see how most of the things you care about are going to work out, if they ever do.

Building Virtual Worlds is one way I am still active in this world now. Without a nicely resolved ending here, at least I can have things just the way I want in my own World, right?

But is just the way I want really what I want?

Participatory Conferences in VR

Participatory Conferences in VR

December 12 2020

How is a conference in VR different from a conference in the other world?

It is worth considering this question since traditional, convention-center-style conferences will become increasingly difficult to conduct in the world of pandemics and high-cost travel.

It is possible to reproduce the environment attendees are accustomed to, including long waits in the cab line if so desired,

But why?

Creating in VR is Different

Creating in VR is Different

December 4, c2020

I think creativity is linked to what is possible.

When it’s easy to try something, it’s more likely that we will. It might not even be a good idea, but while we’re trying it out, maybe something else that’s great comes up, something we wouldn’t have stumbled on unless we tried the other idea that turned out to be not so great.

Raising Funds in VR

Raising Funds in VR

November 29, 2020

What helps convince the brain, and surprisingly it doesn’t take much, is interacting with another person in that new environment. The fact that someone else is there too, also buying into that same new environment and talking to you like everything is normal — the brain goes, ‘done, I’m here.’

If that doesn’t scream, ‘Fundraising,’ I don’t know what does.

Playing the Kse Diev in VR

Playing the Kse Diev in VR

November 21, 2020

I didn’t think the sound would be loud or clear enough to make out the twelve or more individual notes he can produce. I had a short video of him playing all cued up.

It wasn’t necessary.

With the microphone right at the gourd, a very pure and distinctive sound somehow made it along a digital pathway to the AltspaceVR servers and from there into our ears as disturbed air caused by Sinat’s control of the string back in Phnom Penh.

Virtual Reality is Not a Game

Virtual Reality is Not a Game

November 10, 2020

Virtual Reality is a media technology. Games can be played in the medium of Virtual Reality, but many other human experiences can take place as well, like discussions and parties and meditations. And Memorial gatherings for beloved Supreme Court Justices.

Saying VR is a game is like saying print is a comic book or language is an argument.

Stay Home and Go Out!

Stay Home and Go Out!

October 30, 2020

The music didn’t die from Covid, but live entertainment did.

Cambodians know what it is like for the music to die, all the music and all the musicians. Back in the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge knew that artists were their natural enemy, their biggest threat in the long run. So they killed them. Every one they could find.

VR is Not Stalled

VR is Not Stalled

October 20, 2020

Relative to what? What is the model of growth that innumerable tech journalists compare VR to and conclude it is failing, or more charitably, that it has stalled?

Is it TV sets, or home computers, or iPhones? I don’t really care.

If this is stalled, I hope it stays stalled forever.

Taking the Bus into VR

Taking the Bus into VR

October 19, 2020

It takes a certain kind of artist to be willing to try out new venues, new formats, whole new ways of performing. Very few have been willing to try virtual venues, VR as a stage where the world can come together.

Arn and Seyma drove into AltspaceVR in July to put on four shows that were something like a dress rehearsal.

Zoom Host, VR Host

Zoom Host, VR Host

September 26, 2020

Our Zoom event had been scheduled for over a month. Hour and a half, with a soft deadline.

Then I got scheduled into another event two hours after the Zoom. In VR.

Emergency Preparedness for Virtual Community

Emergency Preparedness for Virtual Community

September 20, 2020

I am not considering Emergency Preparedness in the abstract. I am considering for the specific case of a three-year old community is based in Virtual Reality, which also exists in an active Discord server and other platforms that connect people.

I am an active member, but I am not promoting the community here. I am promoting Emergency Preparedness. I hope that this on-going planning process will stimulate other thoughts and plans for other communities.

The Night Before in Discord

The Night Before in Discord

September 8, 2020

His local meditation group was on hold and he’d met up with a new community in VR. He felt drawn to it right away. He could keep leading meditations, keep feeling close and connected to people.

He also loved that Discord dialogue to check in on at three AM. People he knew posting stuff that mattered to them. People he was getting to know writing little pieces all over the different channels. Learning about each other quickly.

Saturday Night Summer Party

Saturday Night Summer Party

August 9, 2020

Jared (Jed-Jed)

[7:44PM]

Good night

That was fun flying around the world

But man I need some rest

Keoki (MondoSamu)

[7:48PM]

Had a BLAST tonight. You guys are the best. Big love to everyone!

Where Can Performers Peform?

Where Can Performers Perform?

July 2, 2020

What do John Legend, Reggie Watts, Lady Gaga, and the Khmer Magic Music Bus (KMMB) have in common?

They are all performing artists who are working in Virtual Reality.

Which one has made the move with the teeniest budget, the least tech support, from the farthest away? That would be the Khmer Magic Music Bus.

Actual News

Actual News

July 13, 2020

Many people are very good at describing what is happening around them. They’ve been watching trained reporters do it their whole lives.

So when you have a stage and a podium all set up in Virtual Reality, with seating for a live audience, folks know just what to do when it’s their turn at the mic.

Paul Simon from Nairobi

Paul Simon from Nairobi

June 8, 2020

He wanted to talk.

He wanted to talk about the Killing of George Floyd. He wanted to host a discussion on everything that is going on and he had a specific plan for how he wanted to do it. He said all that in about one minute.

I’ve learned over the past few months not to be surprised by anything and to do my best to welcome everything. It was hard not to be surprised by Paul Simon — but it sure was easy to welcome him!

Real World News in VR

Real World News in VR

June 1, 2020

Sometimes the juxtapositions are striking.

The young man from northern Alabama let us know there were so few cases of the virus there that everyone went back to the beaches this weekend.

Then a serious sounding man from the southwest corner of the UK let us know that one week ago, his area had the lowest infection rate in the country. So everyone went back to the beaches there. Now the hospitals are overwhelmed and closed down until further notice. In one week.

On-Boarding Arn

On-Boarding Arn

May 2, 2020

This was his first time in social VR, interacting with other people, speaking in a virtual event. His on-boarding happened in front of a live avatar audience. Getting used to the virtual world quietly for a while was not an option.

I had hoped and planned to meet him privately first, before the event, but it didn’t go that way. Introducing someone to VR and/or Social VR, is important. And it wasn’t going the way I’d hoped.

Non-Linear Hosting

Non-Linear Hosting

May 6, 2020

Lords and Masters are supposed to provide something for which they receive something in return. Guests are supposed to follow the terms and conditions of the host. It’s a problem when they don’t.

Hosting events draws on all these themes of strangers and (temporarily) Masters, reciprocal responsibilities, and enforcing the rules. Hosting can be high or low profile but it is involved in most events.

Guido, Mr. Bean, and XD

Guido, Mr. Bean, and XD

April 30, 2020

Guido and I could have talked all day it was so easy and enjoyable.

When he was a young man, he realized that he could hear voices. He did therapy. He thought about it, read about it, started talking to other people about it.

After a few years he began to see that the the voices were helpful, something like guides. He told friends what he heard and it helped them.

Neighborhood News

VR Neighborhood News

April 27, 2020

Ten in the morning pacific time is convenient for many people in North and South America and also catches western Europe, the Middle East and Africa in various parts of the evening.

It’s been a great time slot for hearing real news from a lot of the world.

World’s For People

World’s For People

April 12, 2020

What can we do in Virtual Reality that would be difficult if not impossible to do in any other way? And how can we use whatever is special about VR to help manage the stress and uncertainty — to entertain and inform ourselves and connect with others at a time when connection is restricted?

Multinational and Multigenerational

Multinational and Multigenerational

March 27, 2020

VR is a pleasant distraction in difficult times. It is, in fact, one of the few pleasant distractions still on the table after so many have been cancelled.

Maybe it is becoming more than that.

Full Disclosure: I have been leading Meditations for groups of people in Virtual Reality every day for the past three weeks and I intend to be leading one tomorrow. Maybe two.

Social VR Isn’t What It Used To Be

Social VR Isn’t What It Used To Be

March 19, 2020

And it isn’t where it needs to be either.

It’s not within yelling distance.

But the cultural landscape is up for grabs at this moment. Where are we supposed to do things together? Things that matter, like weddings and funerals and meditating and just hanging out?

Something different is just starting to happen. Some people are gradually beginning to count on VR for something meaningful in their lives. More than that actually — for something safe and calming in times of insecurity and high anxiety.

I Was with Someone in Italy Today

I Was with Someone in Italy Today

March 13, 2020

In VR.

She was at the Meditation on Uncertainty I led today.

After the Guided Meditation, people check in if they want to. Jean was there from British Columbia. A guy from Stockholm has been to every one I have led so far. Mr. Nicerly is his avatar name.

I called on someone at the back and when she said she was in Italy, we were all, like, Wow, and we gathered around her to hear anything she had to say.

Social VR’s Coronavirus Bump

Social VR’s Coronavirus Bump

March 8, 2020

How can we be here for each other when we’re not even supposed to be anywhere near each other?

How can we be fully present with our fellow humans without transmitting microorganisms?

It would take something like an out-of-body experience — which is one way of describing Social VR.

VR Book Club

VR Book Club

December 20, 2019

I decided to organize the VR Book Club roughly the same way most of the translations do, around the three Death-related Bardos.

Bardos are gaps, in-between spaces, spaces where the stuff that used to matter doesn’t matter any more and you’ve got to start all over. Like going from Elementary School to Junior High.

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 5

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 5

May 19, 2019

Relegated.

Followers of European Football Leagues will be familiar with the idea of being dismissed to a lower level of play. Owners of VR Headsets may not be.

I published Part IV of this series nine months ago, wrote all four Parts in the first three months after purchasing a new $400 thing.

I loved my Oculus GO then. I still do. And I’m about to Relegate it to the Second Division and Replace it with a newcomer said to be better by all early reviewers.

The Oculus Quest.

Ellen says, ‘Two is Better than One’

Ellen says, ‘Two is Better than One’

December 9, 2018

Ellen and Facebook brought the truth about VR to TV.

VR is not inherently isolating.

Why did she give away two Oculus Go VR Headsets? Because VR is Social and it takes two to tango.

Attention: This is the Captain Speaking

Attention: This is the Captain Speaking

September 6, 2018

He called his VR experience “a screaming nightmare.” The (scant) news coverage attributed the quote to William Shatner, but that’s sure not how I took it in. I’m, like, “Holy shit, VR freaks out Captain Kirk!”

You’d think that would get people’s attention but it doesn’t. You could say that about a lot of things. But then a lot of things don’t have the potential of VR to make screaming nightmares.

Oculus/Facebook and VR for Good

Oculus/Facebook and VR for Good

August 26, 2018

The ‘VR for Good’ Initiative

is a cute title, but let’s also be sure to remind ourselves how the road to Hell is paved. Through Oculus, Facebook is doing more than just ‘making sure’ we experience no negativity — they are producing content for a new form of immersive media that is intended to be actively Good, not just Badness prevention.

VR Isn’t What You Think It Is

August 23, 2018

I was in a Social VR app the other day, vTime — and a total stranger sitting next to me said she came there every day because she worked at home and didn’t see many other people, so vTime was her way of connecting, feeling part of the human race. The so-called real world (SCRW) provides no people for her, but vTime does.

Is that what you thought VR is?

VR Salon II

VR Salon II

August 20, 2018

I think various kinds of 360 degree image scenes will be the most effective immersive backgrounds for conversation.

An interesting video might be too compelling, but what would ordinarily be a boring video might be just perfect. A video from that same back porch with no people, no action — just the gently flowing river and some leaves moving in the wind — would be alive in a way that a still image isn’t, but still quiet enough to be background, non-intrusive.

VR Salon

VR Salon

August 9, 2018

Salon emerged centuries ago, early in the Enlightenment. Or was it earlier, when people started sharing ideas, publicly sometimes, in the Greek city-states?

The VR part is now, just in time to explore new technologies for talking with each other. The old ones don’t seem to be up to the task at hand, which is to help us discuss areas where we need to cooperate even if we can never agree.

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 4

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 4

August 2, 2018

Gaming is part of VR’s origin story. Gaming dominates VR as a “use case” and elements of gaming are inherent to VR as it is being presented today.

Today’s VR is a combination of gaming, documentaries, narrative fiction, animation, improv theater and probably other traditions too. How much of each one to keep in the mix is what makes or breaks VR experiences. A Dynamic EQ would be nice to adjust the levels for different demographics.

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 3

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 3

July 27, 2018

The reason socializing matters is that VR has a secret source of Content, secret in that no one talks about it much or pushes it in marketing and advertising. The secret source is Other People — and they’re free!

But sometimes it’s not so easy. Some people think VR will separate us into our own separate individual-experience units. The main thing I’m trying to do there is connect with other people.

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 2

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 2

July 14, 2018

What makes us feel present is what evolutionary biology has decided should make us feel present.

First, we tend to believe that our eyes are viewing from where we are. Professor Slater calls this Self-Location, which is heavily biased toward our visual-spatial perspective. Second, we think something is ourself when we experience our internal intention and control over its bodily movements. Both of those conditions occur with our avatars in social VR spaces.

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 1

Oculus Go for Old People, Part 1

June 28, 2018

You don’t have to be old to read this article. You just have to be willing to read something written from a post-career perspective.

I’m not so old that I need virtual reality because I can’t do anything in the actual one any more. I will someday, but for now, VR is a way for me to stay engaged, an endless source of projects that interest me, that I can work on by myself or with others, both of which I am doing.

Week One, Oculus Go

Week One, Oculus Go

May 18, 2018

The reviews are nearly unanimous — the new Oculus Go VR headset is a major step forward. Until now, VR devices have been deeply dependent on non-VR devices, like smartphones and computers. It didn’t feel right. I’m not a major VR techie but I’m not a newbie either. I’ve given many first-timer VR demos, and it was obvious as I tried to quickly jam the iphone into place or adjust the massive computer cables, that this technology just wasn’t quite there yet and everyone knew it.

Maybe it still isn’t quite there. Maybe we’ll be feeling that and saying it about new VR equipment for years to come. There is often something we see after the fact.

The 360 Video Path to VR

The 360 Video Path to VR

December 22, 2017

The philosopher Marshall McLuhan has deeply influenced the way I (and a lot of other people) look at media, and all technology really, as an extension of some aspect of ourselves. VR is an extension of the way our mind constructs the so-called real world, SCRW.

That’s something like what William Bricken meant back in 1990 at SIGGRAPH, a computer graphics conference where modern VR was formally launched, when he said that, “Psychology is the physics of virtual reality.”

Inventing the 360Cast

Inventing the 360Cast

December 2, 2017

I’m in Cambodia now to make 360 VR Video, or more accurately, to help people here make them.

That’s why I’m not using expensive stereoscopic cameras and sound equipment. It makes more sense working with folks here to use relatively low-cost cameras they can order from Amazon and control with the smart phones they already have. And as I talked about this new medium and showed examples, the idea came to me that I could interview people in 360 degrees, so anyone could take in the whole scene — interviewer, subject, and place.

‘Never’ in Headlines about VR

Why It Might Not Be a Good Idea to Use the Word ‘Never’ in Headlines about VR

May 26, 2017

I think VR will be as mainstream as clothing; in fact, I think VR will be more like clothing than something clearly separate from us, like TVs or computers.

It will be the interface to all of our digital support systems (bots, AIs, whatever they’re called) — and the communications platform for most important person-to-person interaction. That’s what I believe, and I’m not just trying to be provocative.

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Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos

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Tom Nickel

Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos

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