Palmer Luckey has gone from VR’s golden boy to one of its most divisive figures, but I know that people are always going to remember the profound sense of silliness he brought to the professional side of Oculus. Whether it is nearly breaking the set of an E3 booth by randomly flapping his arms, or trolling his own panels at Oculus Connect shows, you can’t deny that Luckey was prolific in his earlier days.
So I thought I’d share a story you probably haven’t heard.
In fact, Luckey won’t remember it either. It was E3 2015 and I was sitting in the Oculus booth, setting up a camera to interview Insomniac Games about Edge of Nowhere for a previous job. It was my first E3, my first US work trip, and the first time I’d met some of the faces I’d been seeing in YouTube videos and expertly produced headshots in articles. I kept myself focused, but walking into a room and shaking Nate Mitchell and Brendan Iribes’ hands was still a surreal moment. I was a little intimidated, to be honest.
Adding to that was my appearance. You have to understand, I spent maybe five percent of my time at industry events back then. The rest of the time, I was working from my living room, cut off from the world around me. In the months leading up to E3 I might have let my hair get a little, well, out of control. Like, hair metal out of control. I did not rectify this situation before heading to LA. There are pictures, but I’m not going to show them because you’ll ask if I was behind the hobo in the suit.
But, hey, I was in an industry that prides itself on welcoming everyone, no matter how scruffy or unshaven they appear. In fact the only comments I’d been getting all week were that I had really nice suits. I figured I either had taste so transcendent that my bushy wig was invisible to people, or they were just being really, really polite. Let’s face it, it was the latter.
So there I am, fumbling with a camera, when Luckey walks out of a room, sits on a couch opposite me, and starts scrolling through his phone. Like I said, I’m not star struck or in awe, just a little weirded out that these were real people walking around me and not just smiling for a camera. Luckey is, of course, in a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops and looking like he needs a bit of a break. Still, I figure I’ll say a quick hello. He’d be the last person to care about the mop on my head, right?
I stand up, walk over to him and say: “Hey, Palmer.”
Luckey looks up and stares at me for a few seconds. “Wow,” he says, “that is some serious hair.”
I knew he wasn’t judging me or mocking, in fact if anything it was inquisitive; I think he was genuinely interested in what had led me to look like such a buffoon. I laughed and explained that I wouldn’t be a proper tech journalist if I was wearing a suit and looking the part, to which he nodded in agreement. After a little small talk, I left him to it. The next time I saw him at GDC I’d cut my hair and I don’t think he recognized me.
However history remembers Luckey, I think it’s important to remember the times he gave the VR industry that sense of humor. I, for one, hope it’s a tone we can keep alive into the future.