Ryan Anderson, 24, grew up in a small town in New York, and just like you and I he was a kid who enjoyed playing video games and dreamt about being able to do something like that for the rest of his life. But Ryan didn’t take the more obvious path of a video game tester, or a competitive player, but rather as a developer for virtual reality technology that could very well become an actual reality.
“For the longest time I didn’t think I could make a profession out of this,” said Ryan Anderson at 18 years old.
Upon entering Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an upstate New York college, Ryan discovered his major: Cognitive Science and Games and Simulation Arts and Science, which basically combined computer science and psychology laced with programming, artificial intelligence, and, well, video games. Ryan studied video games in his classes first and foremost before moving onto cognitive science.
“I definitely got a lot of it,” he said, mentioning how interesting he found all his classes. His optimism remained solid after graduation, despite the small job market his advisors at school warned him about. Ryan didn’t receive the best reaction upon being handed his diploma, try menacing laughs and sarcastic best wishes, and he responded with nervous laughter in return but proceeded to big things that following summer.
In August of 2013, Ryan and his friends created the indie game developing company “Proscenium.” The group was inspired by the Oculus Rift, which at the time was making its way to the frontline of the technology scene. “It was the coolest thing, I had to have it,” exclaimed Ryan. Once they got their hands on it and took it out for a few test-drives, Proscenium entered VR Jam 2013, an online competition sponsored by Oculus VR® themselves designed to spawn new ideas for the Rift.
Proscenium created “Specter Seekers,” now improved and simply “Spectre,” and qualified as finalists, winning prize money which they put into marketing and advertising for their newborn game. Finalists were also granted access to a much greater audience with an endorsement by Oculus, which fed announcements and updates on each finalist’s progress via Twitter and Facebook as well as sent interviews and press their way when requested, such as this very interview. For more on Spectre, click here, and if you’re interested in trying out Spectre for yourself, it is available on Steam! YouTube sensation PewDiePie already gave it a go and documented his nightmare:
“So this isn’t your first interview then,” I asked Ryan. “Haha, no, but they’re always fun,” he responded.
I followed up with one of my favorite questions to ask another, “What’s your favorite video game?”
“Haha, that’s a tough question. Let’s go with Zelda. The Wind Waker.” Ryan is a big The Legend of Zelda fan, as well as Super Smash Bros. He adores the epic adventure and story you find in Zelda games and praises Wind Waker’s artstyle which he found fluid and beautiful, “an example of a game that aged gracefully,” as he put it mentioning his immediate pre-order of its HD remake on the Wii U two years ago.
I asked him what that meant to him, to get lost in a video game.
“It takes you away from real life, provokes the imagination and lets you reach a place you couldn’t reach before. “
Enter virtual reality.
This is AppliedVR, a company that utilizes and develops virtual reality technology to improve society with practical applications. Virtual reality isn’t limited to the realm of gaming. While the ability to actually feel like you’re riding a dragon or seeking Spectres in an abandoned mansion is cool and fun, virtual reality can be used for helping and healing. Some examples are weight loss, safety training, and even an application referred to as a “racial mirror,” where you embody someone of different skin color and social status to reevaluate your own concept of how you view yourself if you’re not “you.” Ryan is working on this.
“You feel different and it’s weird how such a simple concept in such an immersive environment can have such a profound effect, but it does,” said Ryan, on virtual reality and societal problems. “[Virtual reality developers] use this heightened immersion proactively.”
Another application is under development: an application to train police officers in curbing the way they react in quick-thinking situations. “If someone looks threatening, how quick are you to draw your weapon,” questioned Ryan. The goal of this application is to adjust the biases law enforcement may have. It’s an indirect response to the media on the topic of police brutality, Ryan mentioned. Unfortunately, no specific demos or footage could be disclosed.
AppliedVR develops application for social and medical reasons in general, as well as personal reasons and experiential marketing. They’re based in Century City, Los Angeles. Ryan had to move across the country in order to work with AppliedVR.
“It feels unreal,” said Ryan, commenting on his life-changing decision to move. “Nothing is more relevant than what I’m doing [with AppliedVR].”
“I get the best of both worlds,” marveled Ryan, since there is no conflict of interest between developing virtual reality for his indie game company and his employer.
I asked Ryan one final question, about his passion and goals.
With Proscenium, Ryan hopes to create immersive environments and experiences that take you away from real life and put you somewhere where you never thought you would be.
With AppliedVR, Ryan aims to be creative and use virtual reality to achieve results. “The results are great but how we do it is what interests me, that’s what I’m excited about. I want to continue to find innovate uses for virtual reality that can be applied to real life.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Ryan’s work, here is Spectre’s homepage, and this is AppliedVR’s homepage. And let us at RL know what you think about virtual reality and its place in the realm of both gaming and, well, reality!