What is Oculus Rift, and why did Facebook buy it?

Zuckerberg has dropped $2 billion on the virtual reality headset. Here's what it all means

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Total-Recall-1
"I said I declined your Facebook friendship request!" Total Recall

Not long after buying Whatsapp for $19 billion, Facebook have spent $2 billion on the purchase of the virtual reality headset software, Oculus Rift. Mark Zuckerberg has promised that the new technology will help "change the way we work, play and communicate".

If you don't know what Oculus Rift is, it's about as close to sci-fi as you can get. Initially created to provide a totally immersive gaming experience, the headset allows users to step into a perfectly engineered 3D environment, fooling your dumb human eyes (and subsequently, your dumb human brain) into thinking that you're actually in the game. Think Total Recall. In fact, some have said that the Oculus Rift environment is so life-like that you get motion sickness once you step out of the game. 

That "WTF is this real?" response is pretty common, as this video shows:

So far, Oculus Rift is only a prototype, and one that got a heavy start-up boost from Kickstarter. Without its 10,000 backers on the crowdfunding site, the initial prototype probably would have never gotten off the ground. (With its $2 billion buyout, that makes Oculus Rift the most successful Kickstarter project ever.)

But now, some of its initial backers and supporters are frustrated and freaked out, adamant that Facebook will monetise and stunt the growth of something that was set to be revolutionary.

Minecraft creator Markus Persson wrote a blog post last night outlining his opposition to working alongside Facebook.  "Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform," he wrote. "There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me."

Facebook's acquisition may bring virtual reality into our homes. Soon we might be able to watch a film with a lover in another continent, get the best seats at a football game or visit a doctor without leaving the house. But will we also be bombarded by adverts and have even more of our individuality packaged and sold to corporations?

The purchase is an intriguing one. Due to Facebook's undoubted muscle, Oculus Rift will be brought into the mainstream and it might not be long before the virtual reality headset has been seamlessly integrated into everyday life. But a lot of gamers are disappointed at the buyout. What was seen as an innovative open platform for users and gamers to create and develop their own ideas has now been taken over by a giant known for its intrusive data collection and advertising-centric focus. There's little doubt that Facebook will seek to lock the technology into its ever-widening social network.

Reddit users attacked the deal when Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey officially announced it on the site. "I don't think you could have damaged your reputation so badly in any other way," one redditor blasted. "Support no project in which (Luckey is) ever involved," said another. "Fuck everything about this."

But not all the feedback was bad. Legendary British game devleoper Peter Molydeux, who created the Fable series, Dungeon Keeper and Theme Park, is excited by the news. Other people have pointed out that without the powerful backing of Facebook, it's likely that Oculus Rift would have never gotten the huge investment it needed to become a commercially available reality.   

If you're curious about the potential of Oculus Rift, you can head here to look round Seinfeld's flat using the technology. What do you think? How do you think Facebook will use the technology? 

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