A New Dev’s thoughts on the Upload Conundrum…

Since the news broke that Upload was being sued by a former employee for various counts of sexual harassment & discrimination, the VR/AR community has been buzzing with opinions flowing freely. Reading over the court documents is much like watching a telenovela, leaving me both shocked and disappointed that the lead characters sank to such unfortunate depths.

The timeframe of the story breaking incidentally coincided with major progression in my personal career as a developer. Since May, I finished an immersive programming bootcamp, begun learning Unity, and upped the anti on my presence in the VR/AR community. This has led me to attending countless events, many of which have been in Upload’s new LA co-working space.

I will admit I was morbidly curious to see if there would be any changes to Upload or remarks made by their team when I attended the first event at their space after the law suit became public knowledge. My curiosity quickly squashed as business carried out like normal.

It was not until I joined the ‘Women in VR’ Facebook group, that I realized the guise of normalcy did not expand beyond the walls of Upload. I came across a post that heads of Upload had been removed from the group for breaking the policy of maintaining a safe space for women, which was followed by mainly supportive comments (a sentiment shared among those who disagreed with the group’s move was that “innocent until proven guilty” should apply).

This issue has taken more importance as I recently took on the co-organizer position for Another Reality LA (ARLA), a VR/AR Meetup, that happens to use Upload’s space for many of its events. Multiple people in the industry shared concern that associating with Upload would be bad PR, or more blatantly stated they wouldn’t set foot in the building. With this feedback I suddenly became very aware of my own reputation in the industry and caused me to question the risk of associating myself with Upload in any way.

My experience over the last year of transitioning into the tech industry has not been without challenges, as most women trying to break into such a male dominated space can likely agree. In fact, I have often been close to exasperation when a connection made at a networking event takes the discussion from professional to sexual (to the point of writing a blog post on the issue, Network & Chill?) . Yet, I my personal experience with Upload has been overwhelmingly positive. They have been a source of information and facilitator of many opportunities I have been presented, thanks to attending events they either hosted or sponsored.

Having discussed this issue with numerous women and men in the industry, I have come to the conclusion that, more likely than not, most of the allegations against Upload holdtruth. This being said, I do not feel that excommunicating Upload is the appropriate response to me made by myself or the industry in general. . .

It would be asinine to think Upload is alone guilty of treating its female employees in such a negative manner. Rather, they are simply the ones who got caught. Working off the assumption the allegations are true (to whatever degree), I do believe Upload is responsible for the misogynistic and lewd culture they are accused of perpetuating. But, if I were to boycott every organization that exhibited such culture and behavior (publicly or behind closed doors), I would be severely limited in my options. Honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath that there would be any left unless I moved to Wonder Woman’s home island, Themyscira.

I attended a DigitalLA event where VRTIGINOUS founder and CTO, Adriana Vecc, explained the goal for women (and men) in the tech/VR/AR industry should be to cultivate an ecosystem where behavior such as alleged against Upload is possible as we have collectively evolved beyond such nonsense. In other words, we should not make this partisan issue, rather we need to promote an ‘asshole free’ space. I agree with Vecc’s perspective and feel this requires evolving above the ‘us against them’ mentality.

As a collective force we can unite to make this an open discussion of what needs to change to make women welcome and safe. Much like the sit-ins of the Civil Rights time in American history, we can guide Upload to the acceptable mindset by refusing to let them play the game any other way.

Rather than blacklist Upload, I say women in the industry fill Upload’s events and space, as you can’t change the ‘boy’s club’ mentality if you leave the boy’s responsible for the atrocious mindset in the first place up to their own devices.

Additionally, I don’t see how ousting such a well known player in VR/AR industry is the necessary response when we are still fighting to break into the consumer market and for mass adoption.

Quite frankly, I do not want to watch Upload burn.

The question we need to ask is whether Upload can correct its mistakes and add value to our industry. In my opinion, the answer is yes. More so, I believe the answer is an opportunity for women and men to work together ensure that Upload’s mistake is a lesson learned by all. Our focus should be on the integration of men and women in the tech space through the celebration of accomplishments made each, not the alienation of a key player who, guilty or not, is becoming more of scapegoat for an entire industry’s issue rather than an purely individual one.

Personally, I am glad this issue was brought to light as now the pressure is on for not only Upload to do a complete re-haul on its culture and practices, but also on every other presence in the industry. As a woman looking to seriously begin my career in a role generally filled by a man, software developer/engineer, I can’t imagine any better circumstance for myself or other women programmers.

What has been an conundrum for me the last few months has turned into a valuable exercise in decision making and potential risk taking. At the risk of criticism and disproval, I have determined as long as Upload illustrates they are effecting positive change in their workplace and my personal interactions with the Upload leadership and team continue to be positive, I will walk into their space with an open mind and head held high. I am sure many of my colleagues will present great counter-stances to my own and I welcome an elevated discussion of the issue.

#virtualreality #uploadvr

Network & Chill?

It was about a year ago that I began my transition into the Tech/VR industry, and since then I have attended more events than I can account. I have been very lucky to have been met with welcoming smiles and the willingness of industry vets to answer my never ending list of questions.

Yet, a reoccurring theme has emerged in my networking experiences that has truly become a thorn in my side. More often than I am comfortable with, the new professional connections I make cross attempt to cross the boundary between business and pleasure. Not always in the initial meet & greet, as sometimes it comes later via email or even a hint laden text message.

As I am new to this industry and attempting to learn and connect with all sectors and experience levels, I will admit I may come off as aggressively friendly. Yet, friendly does not necessarily equate to sexual interest.

(Considering the context of a networking event, friendly certainly does not equal sexual interest, at least in my book.)

Having spoken with numerous women in the industry, I know I am not alone in this experience. In fact, the general consensus is that the nature of this male dominated industry it is just something women have to deal with…

I personally think that consensus is bullshit and feel that is very much a cop out in favor of the “boys will be boys” mentality, along with deeming the intelligence and savvy of women in the industry by focusing on sex appeal.

Even in conversations outside the industry, that pitiful consensus showed its head again. My mother suggested I wear a ring on my finger to dissuade interest. Other friends told me to use it as my advantage and to just take it as a compliment. 

I have been struggling with how to navigate this issue without creating an awkward situation with potential business connections by rejecting them and then feeling uncomfortable developing a rapport as their interests were made known so early and openly.

Do I remove my cell number on my business cards?

Do I start every conversation with a member of the opposite sex with a disclaimer, “I have a boyfriend” or “Just an FYI this will go no where romantically and I would like you to keep that in mind…kay thanks…”?

Do I wear baggy clothing and dress more conservative so as not to attract unwanted attention?

I realized I don’t have to do any of those things because it is not my responsibility to correct this situation.

That responsibility falls on the men of the industry to respect boundaries and find value in an exchange with women while maintaining restraint and not taking it to that level (especially with someone you just met at a professional event). 

I personally do not attend a networking event to pick up someone.

I go to bars for that…

So if you see me there, then by all means lay on the charm.

Björk…WTF

On June 4th I went to the Björk Digital VR experience at the Reef. As a member of the VR industry, I was very excited to see what the resources of Björk and the LA Philharmonic were going to create.

Unfortunately, my experience was not so great and based on interactions with other attendees, the entirety of the experience was anti-climactic and a disappointment. I sent this email to the LA Phil, as it was given to me via a business card at the experience when I asked where to send feedback, and I can’t couldn’t any feedback contact info for Björk online. This led me to the decision to post it on my blog to hopefully help reach Björk’s team and inform potential attendees.

Considering the cost of the tickets (in addition to parking), this was not a cheap expense. I assumed we would be getting a true VR experience, which would be both immersive and interactive.

Of the multiple parts of the experience, only one was somewhat interactive. The ability to play with the flowing strings, that emerged from a very vagina-esque shape, in the first Vive experience was cool but still not exactly living up to the potential of VR. The rail track did add some dimension to the experience, but in both experiences the visuals were in your face and lacked interaction and stimulation. In fact, the whole 90 minutes was an up close and personal experience of Björk basically invading your personal space, but with not interaction or recognition that you are there.

The 360 music videos were repetitive and awkward to watch, but I won’t go into too much criticism over the filmed 360 videos, as they are a different medium than VR (under the opinion that virtual reality means the creation of an accessible & interactive space) and therefore the videos met the expectations had for them, except for the tongue one being slightly nauseating.Bjork's Mouth...

I do think they could have been better, meaning more interesting to experience. For example, there was only one 3 second part in the 360 videos (taking place in the first video where Bjork is on the beach) that implemented spatial audio…

How could something advertising itself as both VR and on the cutting edge of music development not feature sound that reflects the progression of both music and technology? Especially when it would have required minimal extra production work…

My main issue is that the Vive experiences had the potential to be very cool, but fell flat. The experience was advertised as 90min VR experience, and what was given was 15 minutes of VR and a whole lot of other time in 360 music videos or watching large screen projections with big speakers.

Regarding the actual VR elements of the experience, simple fixes, such as having Björk’s avatar sing to you, or acknowledge your presence in the experience would have been great.

-Giving the viewer a body to dance with and the ability to interact and move around inside the experience would have made it truly immersive and stimulating.

-Making it a multiplayer experience where the two people in each partitioned section could, at the very least, see each other inside the experience would have helped improve the user experience.

-My thoughts during the Vive part were along the lines of: “This is lame, I am in a VR music experience and I am stuck just watching a Björk avatar ignore me while having to stand still because I am within a foot of another person in VR and if I move I am likely to likely knock them in the face..”

We couldn’t dance, nor could we even move our heads because of the nature of the HMD rigging (which was to keep the cords out of the way) wouldn’t allow much moving.

The woman working at the event told me to look all around, including down, but that was near impossible as the rig wouldn’t let me bend my head down without ripping my HMD off.

There are so many suggestions I have that could truly make the Björk Digital VR experience better, including something as easy as to give everyone a Subpac to wear and plug into the experiences. This would improve the immersive nature and fit well into the musical nature of the whole show.

As it is now, the Björk experience fails to meet the expectations of immersion and interactivity. It is a cold and alienating experience, that does not promote a connection between the viewer and Björk. Nor, does is represent VR in a positive way.

The very personal lyrics and metaphorical imagery of the female body/experience need to also be considered, as the very nature of the experience being impersonal and non-responsive only served to alienate the viewer from the content rather than encourage emotion and contemplation.

As VR is only just emerging into the pop culture sphere, there were a lot of VR first timers at the experience, and it is very disappointing this was their first experience.

I am concerned people walked away from the Björk experience with a bad taste in their mouth because it was quite honestly over priced and boring. Those who did not walk away with that opinion still left with a misconception of VR and its capabilities.

A big part of me wants to ask for a refund (and that is the part that included my receipt as an attachment in my email), but regardless of that happening or not I felt obligated to give feedback.

This had the potential to be an amazing experience that illustrated beautiful artwork, avant-garde music, and the incredible possibilities of VR. I understand it is an “art installation”, but if it is going to be under the umbrella of VR, then it has to meet the expectations of immersion and interaction.

What I walked away with was frustration that I spent that much money on the tickets and disbelief that the various hierarchies of development, design, and such signed off on this being an experience worth the cost.

I hope this feedback is met with receptive ears, as my intentions are not to be hyper critical but to be honest and helpful.

I look forward to a response and would welcome a conversation with the development team.

Growing pains…

I decided to commit to Challenge Reality at the start of 2017, with the intention of it being a pop-culture centered blog that included topics in media and VR/XR, as these are central areas of my focus and research.

The majority of the world experienced traumatizing emotional whip-lash with 2016, but it is 2017 that has literally flipped my world upside, and as a result, I have neglected following up with anything resembling regular posting. No excuses, I know, but this has (ironically) been quite the challenging year for me…

As difficult as some decisions and experiences have been, 2017 is becoming one of the most exciting periods in my life. I pulled the trigger and made a complete career shift, enrolled in General Assembly’s immersive programming course, and started to find my place in the VR/XR industry. (I also watched the Matrix for the first time. This resulted in an onslaught of years worth of puns and references suddenly making sense).

My goal is to be a novice, yet confident, working VR Developer by the end of the year. In almost all areas of my life I am passionately adapting to this goal. As such, Challenge Reality is being overhauled to reflect my new path.

Though there are numerous social media platforms focused on the expansion of VR tech & content, I am hoping to provide a fresh perspective as well as some entertainment value as I share insights, anecdotes, and information. 

Central to Challenge Reality will be my personal voice, expressed strongly yet humbly. I acknowledge my lack of expertise, my youth, and my semi-obnoxious-obsesion with mermaids… But, I also recognize the value of my education, experiences, and my mind.

So thank you to those who are going to invest their time in keeping up with my VR journey as I begin to Challenge Reality (lame, I know…).

Demoing at VRLA 2017
For those on IG follow me @challengereality_

 

Slaying Zombies- Multiplayer Free-Range VR Game

I feel the need to precede this post with a disclaimer: I wouldn’t call myself a tech-savy gal. My knowledge of VR/Gaming (ETC) is relatively limited, but I am doing my best to learn, and quickly at that. So feel free to educate me on any misinformation I may be unaware of… (:

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When traveling on the East coast last week, I had the opportunity to play a multiplayer VR game at a hotel resort, Kalahari, about an hour and a half outside of NY City in the Pennsylvania Poconos. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it was not only a full blown VR game, room scale, but wireless with multiplayer tracking and interaction. This was my first time encountering this level of immersion for multiple players. All VR venue experiences currently open for public entertainment that I have checked out are not multiplayer in the sense that you and your buddies are all in the same room-scale experience.

The game technology was created by an Australian company, Zero Latency VR, that specializes is free-motion VR experiences with Alienware as their equipment source. The motion tracking technology they use (the little glowing balls on top of the HMD & Gun) were similar to what I saw displayed at VRFest/CES 2017. I spoke with the arcade manager after playing the game, as it was the opening day and he was eager to get feedback from players. I was told that there are only three experiences like this in the United States. Zero Latency also boasts that there are no other VR experiences out there that give you this range of motion and multi-player immersion.

The “game master” (aka kid running the experience) was not able to answer the million questions I had about the equipment and game itself, but did an excellent job explaining your abilities within the game. Basically, up to six people would be in the game together. You logged your gender & height, which would define your avatar. Equipped with a HMD, backpack  (was holding the wireless computer/whatever was powering up the system, I assume), and a wireless gun. The gun allowed you to switch between an assault rifle, heavy assault rifle, shotgun , & sniper rifle. There was a button to reload and to switch modes. Each gun used a laser to show you exactly where you were aiming. The game lasted about fifteen minutes, not including any pauses that may occur.

You had free-range around the room. If you got too close to a wall the game would pause until you backed away. You were able to see your buddies’ avatars, including what they were shooting, though you could not see their laser. For the ones behind you or out of view, a second visual was over-layed showing you their position. When you got too close to someone who was behind you or out of sight, an alarm would sound to notify you to be careful.

What I thought was really interesting is that you had the option to hop in an elevator to move to the top level of the structure and play from there. You couldn’t exit the elevator, but it was still cool to experience the change of perspective. It was also a horrible idea to go up the elevator as you were immediately attacked by zombies. I had the impulse to jump from the elevator to the ground level by walking off the platform, but wasn’t sure what would happen and chickened out (maybe next time). Also, along with zombies attacking the perimeter of the structure, there were riot-police zombies and giant zombies that would break through the barrier and literally try to eat your avatar. They did not emerge until a few minutes had already gone by, so it was pretty startling when they unexpectedly came bursting through the barricades. The barricades were made of rubble, and you would rebuild them by shooting at a target. Not only would this protect you from zombies, but you got points for maintaining security.

Head-shots got you the most points and killed the zombies most effectively. I was impressed by the accuracy of the guns. The tracking seemed really good, and no one in my group encountered issues with their equipment, other than the display fogging up. Considering the amount of movement we were doing and the intensity of the game, this was a given issue. They paused the game about halfway through so the game master could wipe off each player’s HMD with a cloth. I thought this was pretty ineffective, and each player should just be given their own cloth wipe to save time. But then again, the pause ensures you wouldn’t be attacked by zombies as you were wiping your display, so maybe I shouldn’t criticize. Your scores are accessible online after the game, and you are ranked within your group but also across the players of other games and locations.

In all, it was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to see these popping up everywhere. It is exciting how quickly VR seems to be disseminating into our popular culture. Having partially grown up in this part of Pennsylvania, I am still cracking up over the fact that my first experience with VR of this scale was in the Poconos.

 

If you have experienced something similar elsewhere, or know of similar gaming experiences let me know! I am eager track and check out all of these awesome developments in VR.

 

Falling for LA…

Having moved back to Southern California a little more than a year ago, I realized I never explored Los Angeles even though my whole childhood to early adulthood was spent within 20 miles of the city.

Possibly inspired by my recent binge of Wild quotes found on Pinterest tumblr_nfbbh2soz71u2jmxfo1_r2_500
while drinking a bottle of red wine, I decided to embark on a solo trip to the jungle of Los Angeles. My plan was to hit up various places I had heard about over the years, and those that came up in my search of “nerdy Los Angeles places to check out” (just keeping it real…). I made a list of places to venture  and picked a date for the upcoming Saturday.

I woke up that morning with an erie feeling that something was going to happen. My pessimistic-ass self assumed it was going to be something bad. Still determined to carry on with my plan, I headed out for LA… silently praying I didn’t get pulled over or end up inspiration for the next Taken movie.

Much to my surprise, it was as though I was in the exactly perfect place at the perfect time all day. I ended up meeting two women whose interests in art/pop culture/music/inappropriate joke matched my own so well that we spent five hours exploring the Arts District together. I am so thankful for these two women as they showed me galleries that I would have never noticed and other hidden gems that did not appear in my google search results.

After parting ways, I set off to Echo Park as I wanted to visit the Time Travel Mart. This storefront is a novelty shop which funds 826LA, a non-profit organization which works with grade school aged kids on developing their writing skills. As a writer, nerd, and bleeding-heart, this place has been on my list of “must-visits” for years. It was not a disappointment, as the shop is filled with interesting items and energetic children popping in and out. My imagination was certainly stimulated after visiting.

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By chance I came across a comic book store a few blocks from the Time Travel Mart.  Immediately attracted to the name, Alternate Universe  became the first comic book store I ever visited. Ironically, the scene when I entered was straight out of Big Bang Theory episode. There were approximately 40 men playing some type of card game (it wasn’t Pokemon but that is all I got…) at tables taking up 80% of the shop’s open area. Those who looked up to see me walking in were as surprised as I was. The majority stayed viciously focused on the game at hand. To say the least, I was hyper aware that I was both the only female patron in the store, and likely going to make an idiot out of myself in front of all these guys as I had no idea what I was looking to buy.

Luckily there was a super rad gal working, whose enthusiasm for female heroines made us instantly bond. I ended up with an armful of books and truly inspired to fully to commit to comics and graphic novels on both a recreational and scholarly level. I can hardly call myself a pop-culture analyst if I have never participated in such a historic aspects of the genre. ( I actually ended my day at Meltdown Comics, a well-known establishment in Hollywood where I enjoyed their standup comedy show and vast array of indie-comics.)

My day continued on, filled with subtle signs and moments that I can’t really describe other than to say my certainty only grew that the powers that be were smiling down on me (For example, I managed to return to my car seconds before the traffic cop started writing me a ticket… can’t beat that luck).

I also stumbled on the most perfect book while wandering the Labyrinth at The Last Bookstore in DTLA. If you have been to the upstairs part of The Last Bookstore then you know that the organization of books is minimal at best. It is not like Barnes and Nobel, where you can browse the catalog to see whats in stock. Yet, that is the beauty of this establishment…

I literally stopped dead in my tracks as my eyes landed on Communication in the Age of Virtual RealityPart of my educational background is in Communication and my fascination with VR stems from my awareness that this technology will act as a catalyst for the next step in the evolution of human communication. VR is going to change not only the mode of communication, but also how we process information and experience other realities outside our own. Finding this book was like fate slapping me in the face. I have yet to finish it, but I am absolutely intrigued by the level of theory and conceptualization of this research, considering it was published far before any VR technology was truly being created and implemented…

I intended this post to be an expose of sorts on the pop-culture gems of Los Angeles. But the entirety of my experience led to this being more of a personal account of how awesome the city can be. My perspective on LA prior to this day could be summed up by features such as Hollywood, Skid Row, Traffic, the Staples Center, & more traffic. And this is coming from someone who grew up the next county over. I have only just tapped into the treasures LA has to offer and see myself continuing to explore LA and engage with other Angelenos through shared love for the city.

VRvegas D-)

Over the last few months I have quite literally thrown myself in to the VR (Virtual Reality) community. As a newbie, who is still learning about the technology and developmental side (& quite frankly what is currently possible in VR), I am very grateful to those who put up with my incessant questions and excessive enthusiasm.

Attending VRfest in Vegas was somewhat of a different experience, as there were many people there from CES who were unfamiliar with VR. I had the privileged experience of being a VR-authority for the first time, a role I took on humbly of course.

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The best part about VRfest/CES was the overall excitement surrounding VR and the exposure so many VR startups and companies received. The merger of those in outside industries with those in VR was both enthusiastic and rampant. It was a fascinating to observe and participate in various conversations with people whose interests in VR were so different than my own. I still find my mind being blown by the seemingly endless possibilities of VR/AR.

My own lack of experience within the field is both a blessing and a curse as I find myself self-conscious when reaching out to various VR people, yet graciously welcomed with enthusiasm that matches my own.

As mentioned previously, I have thrown myself into the world of VR, rather forcefully at times. Though I consider myself an outgoing person, it was a rather daunting experience when I attended my first VR event by myself this past summer. Though my knowledge and comfort level with VR has grown tenfold in the last few months (for example I now know the difference between the Vive & Rift), the thought of trekking to Vegas by myself was a little more than I could handle. Thankfully, my cousin rose to the occasion and acted as the perfect companion for the trip. Her only experience with VR previously was on my HTC Vive, which I invested in last month. Between the two of us, I am sure we made quite a few people laugh as our awe and admiration for each demo was borderline ridiculous.

A demo that left us speechless, in the best way, was Mule created by Dark Corner Studios. I won’t go into too much detail, as to not spoil any future experiences. But here is the cliff notes version:

You are seated in a coffin with the HMD on. I am sure you can guess the perspective you take during the experience. Hopefully you are quicker to consider the title of the experience, unlike my cousin and I who were oblivious to the overt clue…

It seems that a lot of VR experiences gravitate toward suspense/fear as accessible emotions to activate in participants. Yet, the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Mule narrative set it apart from other VR shorts I have experienced (though I admit the list is not long). The vibe I took from Dark Corner Studios is similar to that of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. It is not so much the desire to inspire fear, but to inspire recognition of the darker aspects of our shared reality. Martin is quoted for refusing to participate in creating a fairytale or Disney-esque fictional reality, and I feel Dark Corner Studios has taken the same call to action. I am eager to see how their narratives evolve with the progression of VR technology.

VRFest Website

Dark Corner Studios