I was discussing VR today with some colleagues here at the SIBGRAPI conference in Rio de Janeiro. At some point the conversation turned to the representation of facial expression.
I said that I wasn’t so worried that lack of facial expression would hold up development of social VR. I mentioned the fact that more than 140 years ago people started communicating with each other as invisible avatars.
The fact that you can only hear someone’s voice on the telephone turned out not to be a show stopper. Consumers in the late 19th century didn’t run out of the room screaming because invisible people were talking to them. They simply accepted the nature of this new medium, and embraced it.
At that point in the conversation somebody pointed out that today is Halloween. On this day of the years people take to the streets en masse wearing fanciful costumes.
Many of those people wear masks which completely hide their facial expressions. That doesn’t seem to bother anybody — it’s all part of the fun.
Maybe the early years of VR-enhanced social experiments will feel a bit like Halloween. When people join the party, they will choose the mask that best fits their mood that day.
I suspect people won’t be bothered all that much if they can’t see each others’ facial expressions. They are much more likely to be bothered if they can’t share a beer.