When the YellowDog team asked me if I would like to attend the Virtual Reality World Congress last week, I anticipated finding a quiet spot in our office, putting on a headset, and watching it all unfold in real time around me – my first virtual conference!

I was chuffed to discover that I would be physically attending the conference at Bristol’s Millennium Square  Now in its third year, there were around two thousand enthusiasts, creators, and suppliers; here are my three take-aways from three days at the world congress.

  1. I don’t know whether I should relax or engage?

The immersion of VR is what makes it so powerful and interesting. I saw people wobbling, stumbling, feeling their necks, laughing and jumping in shock as I passed from booth to booth. Speaking to creators, therein lies the conundrum: too much VR can be tiring; in many 360 videos it’s unclear if you are meant to sit back and relax, enjoy the ride, or crane your neck frantically back and forth and all around. Should I be pressing something? Am I doing this right? With a giant plastic mask or smartphone stuck to your face, you’re on your own and there is no one to copy. There is an edgy-ness to the experience, a battle of your brain, asking if this is TV, Theatre or a Game? It is fun to make your brain deal with uncertainty, but only in isolation and VR has some work to do until people feel confident for hours on end with it.

  1. VR is packed with world class debuts

I met and listened to great people doing phenomenal things at VRWC. A few highlights for me were: Daniel Efergan from Aardman whose infectious enthusiasm for ‘Special delivery’ was….well…infectious, the Science Museum’s ‘Descent from Space’ with Tim Peake has re-imagined how an audience might engage with objects in museums, Coatsink ushered me to ‘look and shoot, don’t point and shoot’ in their VR games, Resh Sidhu from Framestore recalling the new approach they had to take for Fantastic Beast’s VR narrative in Google Daydream because JK Rowling insisted that you couldn’t ‘click’ in the world of Harry Potter. VR is a fresh blank canvas for creators; there are few rules and there’s no large back catalogue on which to dwell too heavily. Each new production is an extraordinary opportunity to make a first.

  1. The industry knows itself – there is a long way to California

The standout talk for me came from Edward Saatchi from Oculus Story Studio. Based in California, on a mission to achieve a Nirvana of ‘VR Story Telling’ that they have named ‘California’. Ed and the team at Oculus concede that the industry still has a long way to go (yes, as John McCormack sang, it’s a long way to Tipperary…and for VR… California). Right now, we are still on the East Coast of the USA. For Oculus Story, Nirvana is a magical place in the centre of a VR Triangle that converges Theatre, Narrative Game, and Cinema VR. On the road so far, they’ve clocked up miles with their first film ‘Lost’ which is a VR only film . Their second journey was ‘Henry’, which introduced interaction with the characters and their third, ‘Dear Angellica’, totally conceived by an artist’s brushstrokes, cautioned the notion ‘VR will never be real art’.

There is a long series of short journeys to be endured and treasured before we arrive at Nirvana but as another saying goes, it isn’t about the destination but the road that takes you there. Right now could be as fun and exciting as VR will ever get because the people sailing this ship have complete conviction in where VR will sail and yet, refreshingly, they accept the infancy of their own expertise.

I walked back to my hotel at the end of it all knowing that VR is in young but wise hands.

Thanks to the organisers @ VRWC, Opposable Group and all the studios I met.

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