#746: Reflections on VR Shooters from Danny Bittman + General Update

There’s a lot of intensity in the world right now, and it reminded me of a short excerpt about VR shooters from a longer conversation that I had with Danny Bittman back at Oculus Connect 4 in 2017. I think it speaks to some of what’s happening in the world and how VR can play a part.


I’m about to head to Laval Virtual in France focusing on enterprise and medical VR while a lot of the rest of the VR industry will be focusing on the news and announcements happening at GDC. I will return to the States next week and start publishing more of the nearly 100 interviews that I’ve recorded this year from Sundance, the Immersive Design Summit, the Symposium on the Immersive Internet, SXSW, and Laval Virtual. More coming soon!

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Wiscissa VR podcast. So on March 15th, 2019, in Christchurch, New Zealand, there was a self-proclaimed eco-fascist who conducted a terror shooting at two mosques and killed up to 49 Muslims. This is something that I've just been looking at, and I've personally found it really hard to do much of anything than think about that right now. It reminded me of a conversation that I had back at Oculus Connect 4 with Danny Bittman. Danny is from Sandy Hook, which on December 14th, 2012, there was a shooting there at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Oculus Connect 4. This was just after the Las Vegas shooting that had happened on October 1st, 2017. This was like 10 days later. During the opening keynote, Oculus had announced that they were going to be collaborating with Respawn Entertainment on this big war simulator. Just kind of like a weird, hey, let's go imagine what it's like to be in war in VR. I think for Danny and for a number of other people, that just really hit them particularly hard, just having been in a town where a school shooting like that had happened. I thought that I would air this segment of this conversation with Danny just because it's honestly just kind of hard for me to focus on some of these other topics and podcasts that I was trying to edit and get out before I leave on my trip to France. So I just wanted to air this last bit of that conversation with Danny where he's able to talk a little bit more about his experience regarding all of this. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:02:09.034] Dani Bittman: I'm from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and after the shooting in my town, it was really hard for us to not convey the sadness we were feeling after the shooting there, but to convey the sudden love that we felt for everyone and this urgency to treat everyone with respect and show everyone these random acts of kindness. And so I know everyone talks about VR as an empathy machine, and I don't think it's really about that. I think it's more of like a vehicle to make you realize the things that you put off in your life. I want people to lift off their headset and be like, yeah, I love my mom. Or like, yeah, I love my dad. And just like acknowledge the things that they usually, I don't know. It's a hard topic.

[00:03:04.469] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, there's been a lot of in the news just a week ago or so with the whole massacre that happened in Las Vegas. And I know I saw a tweet from you, I think even before that going into. Oculus home and just seeing gun violence. There's a lot of video games that the easiest thing to do is to vanquish the enemies and I think that What you're saying? There's there's a thread there of just being connected to people and in that connection to your family, but also that love Yeah When we had TV

[00:03:42.707] Dani Bittman: When TV came out and when radio came out and all those the old mediums came out it gave us this ability to convey philosophy in a way that was impossible before I'm sorry. I don't know why this is hitting me right now What are you feeling It's just like it's so it's obnoxious to see how I mean like at this conference the the it was so much about shooters and I just feel like it's so weird that we focus so much on using a weapon to constantly just like kill people and get like points from it and stuff like that like I get it but I can't believe that we're still doing that like 17 years since 2000 or whatever and it's just been so overdone and I'm like starting to worry that it's populating people's minds a little bit too much and not that it's causing people to go and like commit a shooting or something but it's it's making them a little bit desensitized to it and they don't they forget about the people who are affected and not just not just family members of those who died but those who are in the same town or like I'm sure a lot of business people have visited Mandalay Bay where the Las Vegas shooting just happened and for them to hear that that safe place was suddenly destroyed must really hurt those people and I think we forget about that and this kind of media can kind of make us feel for everyone.

[00:05:22.742] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that really comes up as you're saying all this is just that there's so much trauma in our world. And these tragedies that happen, they're a news item for a day or two. And the news cycle just moves on. But what are the deeper rituals that we have as a society to be able to really deal with these traumas that we have? And that we've kind of become numb to it. And I think that what I hear you saying is just that immersing ourselves in either violence within video games or violence in the context of movies it's kind of just permeates our culture and to me I see virtual reality as a medium that's much more about receiving an environment rather than vanquishing an enemy and I feel like we're looking at the previous mediums and things that were easy to do within video games and kind of replicating that but I I agree that's not really all that necessarily compelling for me. I don't spend a lot of my time in wave shooters and virtual reality and I think that I'm much more interested in how do you give people these new modes of expression or new modes of being able to heal from the traumas of our society.

[00:06:37.326] Dani Bittman: The one thing that I've learned from the Sandy Hook shooting is that we try to be an adult. We have this idea of what being an adult is and we kind of saw after that that it's like those kids didn't get to live their lives and I've kind of felt this big need to live my life as if I am a kid and to kind of like help them live for it. It's like you have to be grateful for the life that we have and so I want to help people see the world through that lens again and understand what it's like to be a kid and how shooters shouldn't be something that are praised. It's something that we should be getting rid of in our society. I really think by allowing someone to be awake in a dream, it might make them realize that more. And if they can be lucid in reality, in that virtual reality dream, then maybe when they go to bed that night, they'll wake up more and they'll be a little bit more conscious about suppressed feelings or something that they have going on. And then over time, be a little bit more open with themselves and be willing to express themselves in ways that they originally were oppressed, which is the journey that I've been going on. And yeah, I don't like how you can open up Oculus Home and then you see Gun Club there. What would those people from Puerto Rico or who have gone through shootings feel when they see content like that? And I think that's a lot of things we forget. And the whole concept of too soon is the problem with this, I think. If someone hasn't been around a fire in a really long time, they can make jokes about being in a fire. But if their family house just burned down, like what's happening right now in Napa, then next time they see fire, or a fire reference, or maybe an animation of someone running around with flames on them, it's going to strike them. They may even break down because it's so close to them. And so people just have to be a little bit more considerate about the deep emotions that everyone else has around them about situations that they haven't been in. There's no such thing as too soon because everyone is going through some kind of tragedy like that.

[00:08:45.298] Kent Bye: So that was a short excerpt from Danny Bittman. He's a VR artist. And this is from Oculus Connect 4, which is back in October 11, 2017. And I just was reminded of that moment when I was just reading about all the news, trying to make sense of what's happening in the world and how VR fits into these larger discussions. I actually think that There's a lot of nuance and complexity in terms of how do we deal with our fears? How do we deal with the truths that we want to speak of what we think the truth is? And Yeah, it's kind of a crazy world right now and just trying to make sense of it. And I think that as a medium, VR has the potential to make some inroads into finding new ways of facilitating discussions in safe environments. I'm reminded of an interview that I did with Philip Rosedale where He was talking about how VR could be this meeting place that's safe, where you could actually have interactions and discussions between robots who have AI components and humans, where if there was an element where you didn't feel safe of these robots, you could actually have these conversations and discussions in the virtual environment. I feel like that there's more and more fragmentation and less and less of conversations between these different groups that are splintering off and coming up with completely different versions of history and versions of reality and these filter bubbles that get to the point where people feel like they want to take justice into their own hands by doing these types of terrorist actions. You know, for them, they think they're doing something that is just in the larger version of reality that they have in their mind. And what is that reality? How do you make sense of it? How do you deal with that in a world that seems to be getting more and more fragmented and less control over a consensus reality that we're all living within? There's these different realities that are exploding and I just get this sense that we're at this very precarious moment of some sort of tipping point where it has the potential to just get a lot worse before it gets better and I think as people who listen to the Voices of VR podcast I know that everybody here is really concerned about the future and sees the potentials of these technologies to make a difference about the future. And sometimes when stuff like this happens, it's really hard to just go about your day as if nothing happened and just kind of suppress your feelings and just pretend it didn't happen and just move on. And I couldn't do that today. So I had to find a way to talk about it in a way that was about the thing that I'm thinking about. Everybody in the community is thinking about VR. I'm about to head out to Laval Virtual. instead of going to the Game Developers Conference. And I think this discussion that I had with Danny was in some ways reflecting a deeper sentiment that I've been feeling, which is that, you know, there's going to be a lot of people that are going to be at the Game Developers Conference next week that are focusing on all the different announcements that I think a lot of companies are going to be having. I'm sure there's going to be some news about Oculus Quest and the games that are going to be released for that. Some of the launch titles that we will be expecting for whenever it's launched within the next couple of months. I suspect it will probably launch at F8, which is where the Oculus Go launched last year. It was a similar cadence between GDC and then formally being launched at F8. You know, who knows if there'll be other announcements from PSVR or from Valve. But there's going to be plenty of different journalists in the game industry that's going to be covering that. And I think there's a larger thread here for me that there's so many other applications of virtual reality just beyond gaming. And just this past week, Oculus had changed their at Oculus Rift account to be just generally more Oculus gaming to say they're really focusing on gaming. So I think they're really going all in on hoping that gaming is going to be the thing that carries virtual reality into the next phase of its life. And, um, I think it's going to be a part of it, but I actually think that a lot of what is going to be driving virtual reality in this next phase is going to be the enterprise, medical applications, training, some of these pragmatic applications that are more custom bespoke, but are going to be sustaining a lot of the developers, a lot of developers that are out there. the consumer market will get to the point where there'll be enough headsets where you can make these different experiences. And something like Beat Saber, just this past week, they announced that they had like one million sales of their game, which that's a huge success for an independent game studio to have that much penetration of having at least a million people out there playing your game across all the different platforms. And I expect that they'll have something that they'll be releasing on the Oculus Quest as well. You know, I think that there's going to be a lot of other things that are going to be driving virtual reality forward. Just at South by Southwest, there was the Bose AR glasses that were announced. And it's basically like a Bluetooth headset, but it's a pair of sunglasses. And so you put on these sunglasses and it just shoots the spatialized audio into your ears. And as you turn your head, it has a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, so you can tell what direction you're looking at and get a little bit more information about head pose. So as you're walking about in the world, you're starting to add a layer of spatialized audio into this mirror world or AR cloud, being able to start to overlay this whole layer of spatialized audio onto the world, which to me is profound just because I could actually see people doing it. Actually, I did see people doing that. either glasses or these headphones the quick connect 35 headsets that actually has the same magnetometer gyroscope and accelerometer so you could just be wearing headphones and all of a sudden as you're turning your head you're getting this whole spatialized experience and as it's Connected through Bluetooth to your phone. You're able to feed in GPS information and all sorts of other layers So the AR cloud I think is gonna start with audio It's already got this killer app with a lot of this Bose headsets and I have an interview with Jessica Brilhart who announced Traverse and had an experience there and did a big convergence keynote at Southwest Southwest and some of the other applications that are coming out for the Bose AR but You know, it's going to be a little bit different, I think, than what people may have expected for what the trajectory and evolution of these spatial and computing platforms are. I think a lot of it is going to be in that audio realm and that virtual reality with this mobile headsets also are going to be pushing it forward. But I'm personally not convinced that gaming is going to be the thing that is going to be able to carry VR to the point where it needs to be. especially when there's so many amazingly compelling applications for training and medical applications that I've been seeing at things like South by Southwest. And I think that I will continue to see when I go to this Love All Virtual, which is going to be featuring hundreds of different enterprise companies that are using virtual reality. So by the time I get back from Laval Virtual, I'm going to have a treasure trove of well over a hundred interviews that I've done just in this year alone. So many great insights from the Immersive Design Summit and the second part of my interviews from Sundance and 29 conversations from South by Southwest and over six and a half hours of conversations about immersive architecture from the Symposium on the Architecture of the Immersive Internet. And then at least another 20 or 30 interviews I'll inevitably do when I'm at the Laval Virtual Conference in France next week. So that's all that I have for today and I just wanted to thank you as listeners of the podcast. I really do rely upon donations from Patreon or to even sustain what I do. This is not a free thing and I literally rely upon the 300 plus people who are supporting me month after month. That is the lifeblood of this podcast and If you're not a supporter, then I really do encourage you to become a donor and to help support this type of independent media, to be able to go to the places that I go and to do the type of coverage that I do. I have so many vital conversations that I'm really looking forward to getting out and sharing with the community. Once I get back from this last trip from France until my next trip, when I go to Tribeca at the end of April, Then I'll have some time to really churn through a lot of these different chunks and to also be working on my website a little bit to potentially update it at some point. I need to just completely revamp it and migrate it over to a completely different system to just make it easier to discover and find these podcasts as I'm putting out there. And so in order to really do that, though, I actually need a lot more financial support to support these other projects, but also just to support the work that I'm doing and to help spread the word about what's happening in the realm of virtual reality. So you can become a member of the Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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