The promise of Oculus Rift is that no matter how shitty your real life is, virtual reality can teleport you into a much better existence. It's a technology with the potential to let someone become an entirely new person.
Among the early adopters of virtual reality is Gunter S. Thompson, a part-time web developer in Florida. After getting an Oculus Rift development kit 1 headset by backing the Oculus Rift Kickstarter, Thompson began hosting a virtual reality talk-show originally called Virtually Incorrect, which was later renamed Gunter’s Universe.
Each episode of the show involves people logging into an online program called VR Chat to watch Thompson interview his guests. The majority of users wear virtual reality headsets and have custom avatars, but it's not a requirement.
When the show kicks off, the audience sits in virtual stands as Thompson and his guests take their place at the main table in the center. Topics of conversation often begin with introductions, followed by questions related to how each of the guests got into virtual reality and what they're currently working on. From there, the talks often dive deep into the virtual reality theories and beliefs of each of the interviewees.
Screenshot during one of Gunter’s Show. Image: Gunter S. Thompson
Over the last year or so, Gunter has hosted several notable guests including Chief Visionary Officer of The Void James Jensen, co-founder and star of the first 3D live cam Ela Darling, and Futurist at 20th Century Fox Ted Schilowitz.
The difference between Thompson and the developers riding the booming virtual reality business is that Thompson is probably the only one of them who lives in an RV.
Gunter made the transition from house to RV to help cut down on expenses like rent and utility bills. The cheaper cost of living helps support his virtual reality lifestyle while allowing him to take his show wherever his heart desires.
Gunter in his RV. Image: Gunter S. Thompson
Companies in the virtual reality industry are raising huge rounds of investment. According to UploadVR, at least $384 million was pumped into virtual reality in 2015, giving hope to those looking to start a career with virtual reality, like Gunter.
The main problem though is that the virtual reality user base is not big enough to support the growing indie developer community. Unless you're working for a developer that's backed by a company or investor with deeper pockets, or one that is operating in the advertisement space, it's still extremely difficult to pay the bills by making independent virtual reality content. Entering the the virtual reality space as an independent at this point means making sacrifices, and Thompson is a prime example.
“The journey into RV life has been a double edged sword," he said. "The lure of freedom, not being tied down to one place. My wife and I used to live in a four-bedroom house, which was too much for us. Too much to clean!”
On the other hand, hosting a virtual reality talk show from an RV presents its own set of challenges.
Thompson has the hefty computer he needs to run a virtual reality headset, but keeping it running in an RV means he has to park strategic locations to gain access to an electrical grid each night.
And as for an internet connection, luckily, both Thompson and his wife secured a couple of unlimited data connection hotspots before Verizon stopped offering those plans. With this setup, Thompson can host his show anywhere he goes as long as there is enough electricity and a cellphone tower within range.
"Sometimes I break 500GB in data in a month which is crazy!" Thompson said. "I feel like I’m in the 1 percent of mobile data usage. No matter what it has been a learning experience living in a RV and it’s super cool since I’m jacking into the metaverse/oasis from my RV, like Aech from Ready Player One,” Ernest Cline's 2011 dystopian novel that place in a huge virtual reality game.
In July of 2015, VR Chat, the company that created the social virtual reality platform that Thompson hosts his show in, hired him part-time to help bring in more users. In addition to Gunter's Universe, Thompson now also hosts social movie nights, karaoke, halloween extravaganzas, and Christmas celebrations for VR Chat.
Despite the time and effort that keeps the mobile virtual reality talk show rolling, it still doesn’t pay all of the bills yet. Thompson hopes that it will in the future, but for now he keeping his web development day job.
Gunter, on the left, with the VR Chat guys. Image: Gunter S. Thompson
However, Thompson says he isn't in it for the money, that getting into virtual reality should be about the experience.
He's been dreaming about virtual reality since he was a teenager, and believes that it has already changed his life. Calling him a virtual reality believer would be an understatement.
“VR is going to be the culmination of all the work humanity has been up to since the birth of language," he said. "VR will allow us to communicate in ways never imagined. Through this communication we will transform ourselves.”
Widespread adoption of virtual reality isn't here yet, but Thompson is obviously too excited not to be a part of it right now. Those who think virtual reality is a fad akin to 3D movies, he says, can't see the future that's in front of their faces.
"They lack ‘vision.’ They will be in the backseat for this ride. The rest of us that can see the potential of VR will be in the front seat driving," he said. "Driving our sweet ass virtual vessels built on photons and the human imagination, racing through the metaverse and places beyond."