Virtual reality is a hot topic in storytelling and tech. The New York Times has a whole channel of VR content, CNN made the news last fall for streaming the first Democratic presidential debate in VR, and even the NFL is using the medium to train its players. With all of the buzz around immersive documentaries and video games, an important aspect of VR can often be overlooked: its potential as a social platform. VR can allow people to interact as if they are in the same room together, even if they are continents apart.
An Oculus demo called Toybox, which was on display at CES 2016, explores VR’s social side. After donning Oculus Rift headsets, two players are transported to a virtual room filled with toys: blocks, rockets, toy cars, orbs floating in space. As participants play with the various features, they can also engage with each other. One user describes shooting her partner with a ray gun and shrinking him to the size of a toy. Another describes playing hot potato with a lit Roman candle. “I can’t remember a moment where I wasn’t laughing, smiling or profusely (and profanely) expressing my happiness,” she says.
Toybox started off as a way to test Oculus’s touch controllers, which allow users to hold and touch virtual objects. The creators also used the demo to experiment with ways people can interact with each other in virtual space. As one of the first social VR experiences, WIRED has called Toybox “the best Oculus experience yet.” All the excitement around Toybox makes sense, considering that a common problem with VR is that it can be isolating; Toybox sidesteps this issue.
“After spending a few minutes in Toybox, you understand exactly why Facebook wanted Oculus,” the WIRED article states. Facebook bought Oculus in spring of 2014, when Oculus was still a quirky startup. As Oculus prepares to release the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift in March, the opportunities for this new piece of gear seem endless.