Impossible Task: Explain VR To Someone Who Hasn’t Tried It

Image courtesy of Oculus (as seen on

Often explaining VR to someone who has never tried, it ends up sounding more like incoherent fangirling. Explanatory buzzwords like “engaging,” “so-real,” and “like the movies” don’t cut it.

In the exciting moment of describing VR to others, I feel like I come off more like a pushy salesperson over an enthused user and storyteller. You know the kind that verbally bombards you with a list of things, many of which you have no context for or may not even care about.

So, I apologize on behalf of VR users everywhere, in particular those facing people like me trying to explain to them what it’s like to experience VR for the first time.

I admit it. We do a terrible job and it’s impossible to describe what VR feels like.

I can say with utmost confidence that some things need to be tried to be understood. At Nano where I work, we come up with new haptic actuator tech (buzzing in gaming controllers and phones), and it’s nearly impossible to get someone new to haptics excited about it without trying it first. Sure, I can rely on stats, but like VR, that’s only part of the story.

How Does VR Make You Feel?

If I can’t explain or describe VR to you, there’s only one way I can compartmentalize it. Are you up for little thought experiment?

All you need to do is stop for a moment, it’s hard I know, and clear your mind as much as possible. Think back to a time when you saw or experienced something for the very first time. It may be a cottage trip and looking out onto the glistening lake water. It may be looking down a snowy mountain first-time snowboarding. Did you travel somewhere to see a great world wonder? Did you stand in awe at a famous monument, statue, or work of art?

Imagine yourself in that own moment right now. Think only of that time. Go ahead and close your eyes and really visualize it.

  • Do you remember what the sky looked like?
  • Was there something special about the colors around you?
  • Did you feel at peace, warm and cozy?
  • Did the air have a particular smell that day?

However your moment made you feel, I bet it’s incredible. I imagine that no matter how many photos or videos you took then, it won’t do it justice. Even with ‘all the best words’ to describe it to me, I bet that feeling isn’t fathomable and it would require me to experience it myself. It’s not the same as being there, right?

Unexplainable and indescribable are also what it feels like to try VR for the first time. With each new VR experience, game, and social tool, it creates a brand new first moment. Like your own memories, the reality of it and value only matter to you. That’s what makes VR so special and why it has so much potential.

What Are You Waiting For?

Sure, not every VR experience will be amazing. You can say the same thing about console games (and life itself!). But some games will rock your world, like Half-Life: Alyx and Waltz of the Wizard did for me.

Some people are waiting for technology to get even better, like to 4K or 8K in each eye. I think those folks will be sorely upset, not at the quality of today’s tech, but the fact they missed out for so long on such an amazing experience.

The fact is, the majority of people can’t afford VR yet. Industry recommended headsets are priced like a mobile phone, and still, you need an advanced computer to run them.

If that’s the case for you, take any opportunity you can to try it. Be it a friend, visiting a local VR arcade, or even a store that has a demo unit for customers to try. Safely, of course!

Bigger picture, the VR industry is in a chicken and the egg situation. We need more users for the industry to justify making epic AAA games. We need epic games to get users and mass adoptions, which helps open up the market further; more headsets and better prices.

After reading this my hope is that:

  1. You’re new to VR and are more interested in trying it.
  2. Already tried VR and are open to giving another headset and games/experiences a chance.
  3. Use VR and now have a new way to express how it feels to encourage others.

If you want to hear more about what I play, my setup, or even my first experience with VR, which wasn’t great btw, reach out and say hi.

Vive le virtual reality!

Strategic alliances (haptics & magnetics) at Founding team @Nanodots. Writes about VR, tech, startups, and autocross.

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