You know how you can tell when an exciting piece of new technology has arrived? When you stop thinking about the future it promises and start thinking about the mundane hurdles of using it in the real world.
The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and other virtual reality headsets are real consumer products now. So it only makes sense that I’ve gone from wondering how they will transport me into other worlds to worrying what they’ll do to my hair.
There’s nothing I could say to describe my hair that Evan Narcisse doesn’t cover in his piece on “The Natural” style of Black dude hair. And it’s not like my curls were perfect before VR came along. I dislike haircuts or styling my hair in any real way. I prefer to just let it grow and grow until it inches into small afro territory. Don’t tell my dad. I comb it into something resembling an even shape but that’s about it. But it’s still a delicate balance. If I wear a hat too tight or lean against a wall the wrong way it’s all over. And in my experience, while wearing VR headsets, it’s all over all the time.
VR headsets are designed to rest on your head like a hat. The Oculus Rift has been compared to a baseball cap. But the cap portion is actually a collection of straps. If you’re some Becky with the good hair that lies flat against your head this isn’t too big of a problem. Everything stays fairly uniform. But my hair texture reacts more like a memory foam mattress, with each new indentation ruining whatever symmetry might have existed before. And it’s not like my hair is that unique for a Black dude, or even at its maximum length in these photos.
In the privacy of your own home, you could easily brush your hair back to respectable after taking off the headset. But what if you’re using VR in a public space? I learned this lesson that hard way at a PlayStation VR event last year and at IndieCade East this past weekend. The strategy I used was to save the VR demos for last so I could minimize my time being seen with bad hair, or rather with worse hair. But it’s not just a problem for the press.
VR headsets cost hundreds of dollars. So I imagine most people’s first experience with the tech will be in public demo spaces, public spaces full of other hopefully empathetic people seeing your new deformed VR do. Funnily enough, it’s the strapless Google Cardboard, the cheap DIY VR solution anyone can make, that’s best for those who value post-VR appearance above all else.
I’m not sure if there’s a solution here, or even if the problem is that big. Maybe Oculus should start packing in combs along with Xbox One controllers? And while we’re talking about how headsets ruin your looks, maybe we should find a way to stop them from leaving telltale creases in your face. It’s just interesting to think about how even tech that goes to painstaking lengths to be “standardized” still ends up affecting people in different types of physical ways. People and their bodies are diverse! Shocking! For example, another possible problem with virtual reality hardware is how it tends to fit poorly on women. Just something for the industry to consider if it wants to sell pricey gizmos to as many folks as possible.
VR is being sold on solitary escapism. So it’s fitting, after so many false starts due to underpowered tech, the last foe it has to overcome is social self-consciousness. Or maybe we’ll all just to evolve into hairless homunculi. I’m willing to wait.