The US Presidential Elections Brings Virtual Reality to the Spotlight

AltspaceVR - Presidential Debate 2016

There are many options to watch tonight’s first U.S. Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Virtual reality is among them.

The debate will be broadcast by the major networks and cable channels, and webcast via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter live streaming. There is also a high-tech option: you can strap your Oculus Rift or Gear VR on and watch the debate in Virtual Reality (VR) via Altspace VR, in partnership with NBC News.

AltspaceVR is a social VR company that offers 3D virtual meeting places to users equipped with VR goggles such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, or HTC Vive. For old-fashioned, second-class users without VR equipment, there are “flat” 2D versions of Altspace VR for Windows and OSX. Flat 2D in the Second Life sense: PC users can walk around, interact and talk to others, but they’ll miss the full immersion fun. The VRcast of the debate will be little more than a video webcast in a social VR space – you shouldn’t expect to shake virtual hands with the candidates’ avatars, or push hem around – but it will be a preview of things to come.

So the 2016 US presidential elections will have a place in history as the first elections in VR. But these presidential elections are also among the most intense and heated in history, and now the political debate is leaking into the world of VR tech development.

Does Oculus Rift Creator Palmer Luckey Support Donald Trump?

Palmer Luckey wearing an Oculus Rift.
Palmer Luckey wearing an Oculus Rift.

A few days ago The Daily Beast reported that Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey is financing “an unofficial Donald Trump group dedicated to ‘shitposting’ and circulating internet memes maligning Hillary Clinton.”

The group, which goes by Nimble America, was announced on the subreddit “The Donald” – one of the largest Trump support groups online – a few days ago. “Announcing Nimble America, Inc., a social welfare 501(c)4 non-profit dedicated to shitposting in real life,” said the announcement. The post was later deleted, but a cached copy is available. “We believe that America has been lead by poor leaders who have abandoned American principles and sold out all Americans. With the right leadership America will reverse its course towards mediocrity and globalism, becoming great again.”

One of the first actions claimed by the group was posting a billboard in Pittsburgh with a Clinton cartoon and the words “Too Big to Jail.” Luckey admitted that he has been financing the group, to which he was introduced by Alt-Right icon Milo Yiannopoulos.

The Nimble America website isn’t responding at this moment. Perhaps it is under a DDoS attack? What is certain is that a lot of people are mad at them. Motherboard reports that many virtual reality game developers intend to stop supporting Facebook’s Oculus Rift until Luckey steps down.

In a Facebook post, Luckey admits that he contributed $10,000 to Nimble America because he thought the organization had fresh ideas. Contrary to what has been reported by Motherboard and other news media, Luckey’s doesn’t “apologize” for his ideas but claims personal responsibility, trying to shield Oculus VR and Facebook from predictable attacks.

My actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.

“The news shocked the VR and tech community at large on Thursday night, but a look at Luckey’s Twitter activity reveals that he’s been openly in support of the alt-right and the bigotry that defines it since March,” says another Motherboard post.

These strong words are typical of Silicon Valley’s widespread condemnation of the Alt-Right and Donald Trump. It may seems odd that the tech community takes such a passionate stance against a politician. A possible explanation is that Trump is seen to represent the old world of manufacturing and its uneducated workforce against the new world of computer technology and its Silicon Valley elites. This is a war between the America of atoms and the America of bits, suggested a Newsweek op-ed. This seems to make sense: political positions are often motivated by financial interests rather than ideological convictions.

There are, however, notable exceptions to Silicon Valley’s opposition to Trump. Also, not all tech developers are attacking Luckey. James Green, co-founder of VR developer Carbon Games, thinks the backlash is nonsense:

I absolutely support him doing whatever he wants politically if it’s legal. To take any other position is against American values.

Images from NBC News, AltspaceVR, and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.