Day 82: The Night Cafe – A VR Tribute to Van Gogh

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Now over a month into my time with the Gear VR, I’ve come to realize several things.

1) I’m going to need some Dramamine for any games that require extensive movement, lest I want to feel like I’ve read the entirely of a newspaper comic strip on the floor of a shaky bus.

2) A lot of the more promising games in the Oculus store require me to have a bluetooth controller. Without one, I’m stuck using the visor touchpad, which leaves me constantly feeling like Cyclops prepping an optic blast any time I try to simply walk forward.

3) Good bluetooth controllers are roughly the same price as a black market kidney.

So for the moment, I’ll be sticking with the basic and relatively inexpensive (read: free) experiences on offer at this stage. It’s mostly 360 videos of sports and red carpet movie premieres, but alas, this is the plight of the early adopter. The format is extremely young, still months away from any of the heavy hitters reaching shelves. For all I know, a year from now, the Gear VR will be a mere memory, one of th e many casualties of the VR Format Wars of 2016, where the makers of the Zojirushi Rice Cooker took the world by surprise with their own headset that could run Crysis AND keep your coffee warm, leaving everyone else in the dust.

So hats off to the developers in the trenches right now, trying to figure this stuff out and offer interesting content to whiners like me; content like The Night Cafe.

It’s one thing to simulate real people and places in virtual reality, but where things are going to get real interesting is how consumers will react to completely impossible worlds surrounding them, or in this case, the various works of Vincent Van Gogh, tied together in a 3D space while a soft piano piece plays in the other room. You can gaze at the iconic chair or sunflowers and even walk over to the man, eventually earning a nod and a toast from the ginger genius before looking out at, quite literally, The Starry Night.

The experience is slow and deliberate, as soft as the painted forms of everything around you. There’s a disconnect, for sure. At no point did I feel like I was actually there, more like a tourist in an art exhibit, ironically enough. It begs the question of exactly how important immersion is in VR and whether or not it should be a consistent expectation of ours moving forward. Is the goal to eventually trick our brains into thinking that we could actually exist in this setting, and if so, is the only barrier to that one of technology and higher resolutions? Would that same walk through the cafe feel more “real” if the 3D was in 4K instead of coming from my smartphone or would the nature of the art design still force that disconnect?

This may seem like an over-analyzation of a neat tech demo, but these are the questions that we’ll find ourselves asking long after the wow factor has worn off, when we’re wondering just what the true difference is, if one exists at all, in how we feel and interact in VR as opposed to how we do the same things behind a TV or monitor.

We can start by adding a “hug Van Gogh” option. The guy sure as hell needed one.

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