Writing from an alternate reality

by Ian Hamilton • July 27th, 2015

I am writing this from VR in a dimly lit tavern with a fire crackling behind me. Vaguely medieval music adds ambiance. Four people plus the dungeon master are playing a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game in a room adjoining the tavern. I lean in close to examine the pieces on the table.Fire Altspace

“Hey people, sorry about that,” says Altspace Head of Developer and Community Relations “Cymatic” Bruce Wooden, after restarting his computer to fix a problem with his mouse.

His avatar sports a black mane of hair, like the real life Wooden.


My avatar, not nearly as personalized, is a robot with blue stripes that glow when I talk.

Then my virtual world slowly falls apart. First Altspace starts acting finicky and, coincidentally, the power goes out, dropping me out of VR entirely. On top of it all I think my Windows machine might’ve contracted a virus. When the power comes back on in my house, I reinstall everything.

Forty-five minutes later I am back inside Altspace just in time to catch the people playing Dungeons and Dragons taking a break.

So here I am, alone in this tavern and taking pictures.

Selfie Altspace

I’ve heard a lot about Kung Fury so I load it up on Youtube in a window to my left. I log into WordPress again in a window in front of me to continue this writing. To my right I have another window with Twitter loaded up.

“What are you doing daddy,” my oldest kid asks me from reality.

“I’m doing several things. I’m watching a silly movie, I’m writing and I’m in a tavern,” I tell her.
That was all I had the time to write on a Saturday inside VR before my time ran out. I took off the DK2 headset and the rest of this post was written on an iPhone with a newborn baby under my watchful eye. (At the end of my writing, I edited this post on a Windows PC.)

Inside Altspace I was able to get a glimpse of what working, browsing the Internet, connecting with others, playing a game and watching a movie will look like in VR. All of it can be accomplished in a shared space without switching apps. For those playing D&D, the same browser windows loaded up in VR that I used to work, watch a movie and monitor Twitter they used to look at their character sheets, roll dice and see images of their monsters and environments.

It was buggy for me, but no more so than jailbreaking an iPhone in 2008. I first jailbroke my phone to record a video before Apple would officially support it. The app’s frame rate was low and the resolution left something to be desired, but it worked. To anyone who owns a DK2, that should sound familiar.

Later, when I was installing the first officially supported apps, I watched post after post disappear from buggy early versions of the WordPress app. There was no way to copy and paste so if something disappeared it was gone forever. Still, robust mobile apps untethered me from my desk. Suddenly I could write a blog post from anywhere. For me, it was worth the occasional hiccup.

Now here I am, the better part of a decade later, and my iPhone is filled with beautiful 1080P videos and this blog post is just the latest bit of text published from my phone.

VR will follow the same evolutionary path. It starts with missing frames and a low resolution and apps that don’t work perfectly, but in the end you will have a system that allows you to do things you couldn’t before. When this system arrives it will bear a lot of similarities to Altspace.

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