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[Best of 2015] The Year in Virtual Reality

The future is now.

by Beckett Mufson
30 December 2015, 2:25pm

THE VOID

Virtual reality has been the stuff of science fiction for decades, manifesting itself in William Gibson's Neuromancer, Star Trek's iconic holodeck, and Phillip K. Dick's A Maze of Death, all the way back to Stanley G. Weinbaum’s 1935 short story, Pygmalion's Spectacles. Science has been trying to catch up with Weinbaum since the 1960s when future Disney creative Morton Heilig created the multisensory "Sensorama" and Thomas A. Furness created the Air Force's first flight simulators.

At last, in 2015, they did. This was the year Oculus Rift became a household name. The year 360° videos stormed Sundance. The year the New York Times sent over a million Google Cardboard headsets to their subscribers. The year VR was welcomed into galleries, museum triennials, and even Art Basel.

This was the year virtual reality came of age. Now, like any kid fresh from a bar/bat mitzvah, the medium is on the cusp of adulthood with endless possibilities ahead. In preparation for the new virtual delights that are to come, let's check out what was new and notable in 2015.

A Syrian refugee camp. Still from 'The Displaced.' Courtesy Vrse.works

+ Oculus Rift formed Oculus Story Studio, a department dedicated to making films immersive enough for the medium. Their first film, Lost, made a splash by debuting at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

+ Filmmaker, installation artist, and VR futurist Chris Milk also went to Sundance for his breakout VR documentary, Clouds Over Sidra, which follows a 12-year-old girl living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. His company, Vrse.works, also made a documentary about an anti-police brutality march with VICE, a horror film set in a 1940's sanitarium, followed an Ebola survivor, and launched The New York Times' VR app with a film about refugees all over the world, The Displaced.

+ You can learn about Milk's philosophy toward VR in a TED Talk he did on the subject, referring to it as an "empathy machine."

+ YouTube brought VR to the masses by enabling 360° video. Now, anyone with a cheap or DIY camera rig can make an empathy machine of their own.

+ Dozens of artists explored virtual reality filmmaking in their music videos, including The Weeknd, Björk (several times over), Squarepusher, Rioux, and FINDR.

+ Two amazing-looking virtual reality theme parks opened up this year: THE VOID in Salt Lake City and Zero Latency in Melbourne.

+ Speaking of games, Monument Valley developers Ustwo Games announced their next visual treat will be a VR experience called Land's End, and it looks phenomenal.

Magic Leap

+ The even less-explored subgenre of augmented reality has two potential superpowers gearing up for a showdown in 2016, Microsoft's Hololens and the mysterious startup Magic Leap. Both brought impressive displays of their technology in 2015, but the real action is still to come.

+ NEW INC members REIFY brought AR to the record industry with their 3D-printed sound sculptures.

+ Nintendo announced an official augmented reality Pokémon app for iOS called Pokémon Go, built by Niantic Project, the professionals behind AR spy game Ingress. If you haven't watch the trailer yet, watch all your childhood dreams visualized below.

+ Virtual reality art shined with Daniel Steegmann Mangrané's Phantom at the New Museum Triennial and Jeremy Couillard's Edition Hotels installation at Art Basel Miami Beach.

+ Couillard's Out of Body Experience Cilinic was one of several gallery shows that relied on VR goggles, as was Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Giselle Zatonyl, Leo Castañeda, Eva Papamargariti and Sebastian Schmieg's work at Reverse Space's Uncanny exhibit.

+ LaTurbo Avedon took the idea of a virtual reality art gallery even further with her video game nightclub.

+ Missing masterpieces resurfaced in the virtual Museum of Stolen Art.

+ The internet was captivated by a cautionary tale of VR addiction by international production house 3dar.

+ Meanwhile, BeAnotherLab and MIT tested the limits of human, technology, and nature with a VR experiment that swaps their subjects' genders for the ultimate empathetic experience.

BeAnotherLab and MIT, Gender Swap 

Do you have a virtual reality project that's going to define the medium? Let us know in the comments, or email beckett@thecreatorsproject.com.

Related:

Find Missing Masterpieces Inside the Museum of Stolen Art

Watch 'Uncanny Valley,' a Sci-Fi Short About Virtual Reality Addiction

Change Your Sex in Virtual Reality

Tagged:
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best of 2015
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