Gender-based virtual reality?

danah boyd, a favourite tech thinker/creator, has raised some interesting concerns about the potential for people to experience virtual reality (though the Occulus Rift in this case) differently based on the person’s gender.

Although there was variability across the board, biological men were significantly more likely to prioritize motion parallax.Biological women relied more heavily on shape-from-shading. In other words, men are more likely to use the cues that 3D virtual reality systems relied on.

The article goes into the specifics of the problem (which hasn’t been sufficiently researched yet to be a certainty), but I found this interesting to compare to my experience with the Occulus Rift at PAX Aus last year. While I only used it for a few minutes, I found three things were obviously different from viewing real life in a way that left me nauseous and disoriented:

  1. I could see the pixels. Definitely a hint that it’s VR, though not a big problem for adapting.
  2. The picture didn’t move as fast or quite as far as my head did. Often the picture would take a moment to catch up with the movement of my head (a familiar experience from uni pub crawls, and just as nauseating), and sometimes it would never move as far as I’d moved (e.g. when I turned my head 90 degrees, the picture would only turn 70 degrees).
  3. My eyes didn’t feel like they were focusing in the right place. While every object had the right perspective, my eyes were straining to understand how they were meant to see the things ‘in the distance’ that they could only focus on by looking at a surface a few centimetres away. I’m not sure if this contributed to the nausea, but it was definitely a bit tough on my eye muscles.

From boyd’s article, it sounds like these shape-from-shading cues could be a serious long term issue for virtual reality. Speaking as a likely (and excited!) future customer, I’ll be adding them to an already-long list of things they need to fix before I can justify forking out my savings. I hope the Facebook purchase of Occulus Rift will give them the backing and manpower to get these issues sorted soon!

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