Many things are remarkable about Time magazine’s new VR-themed cover. The pose not being least amongst them. Is Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey setting up for a Karate Kid-style crane kick? Is he flapping the wings of a virtual pelican, swooping into the ocean for a mouthful of delicious herring? If so… cool. If not, then the mystery as to how anyone signed off on this only deepens. Because if this stock art of a beach represents the VR dream as far as Time is concerned, then mainstream media still has quite a long way to go in terms of selling, or even understanding, the concept.
We’ve written a ton about virtual reality platforms the past three years. We see its possibilities, we see the obstacles it faces, and we have waded face-first into the strange, experimental pornography VR is already producing. At this point, our whole staff is invested in the hope of VR becoming a viable gaming platform.
What’s cringeworthy about Time’s cover is that it reinforces, rather than challenges, the perception that VR is a mask that nerds use to blot out the world. And apparently, that the spaces that VR escapes you to are actually quite mundane. The image depicts the VR experience at its least noble and least interesting: watching someone else use it.
Mainstream acceptance is the thing standing between VR becoming a phenomenon. Hardware makers like Oculus and Valve have cracked most of the technical barriers that made VR unviable in the past, but this Time cover reminds us that VR still faces a massive marketing challenge.
Besides, our 1996 cover was obviously a much cooler, perception-breaking expression of VR.