Welcome to my Happy Place

When I tell friends about my new obsession with my Oculus Quest, the first thing they usually ask is what apps I use. It’s a little hard to explain that one of my favorite apps is the home screen.

Seriously. Let me explain.

When you enter the Oculus Quest you find yourself in a geodesic dome. Being VR, it’s a fully immersive experience. Every direction you turn there’s something to look at. Overall, the space is lovely. Wood floors, cozy fire, mid-century modern furniture, and a gorgeous view. What’s not to like?

Cozy fireplace on the Oculus Quest home screen
Desk (with an appropriate amount of shelf space)
Chair arrangement with coffee table perfect for a conversation or game

(OK, the absence of any doors in or out is a little creepy if you think about it too hard, but let’s not.)

Of course the first thing I wanted to do when I landed in the home screen was to walk around and maybe hang out on the furniture. Small problem. The furniture isn’t real (obviously). Also, you can’t just wander freely: you are constrained to the space inside your “guardian.”

Let me backup and explain how the “guardian” system works. When you start using the Quest, it prompts you to choose either a stationary or room scale experience. If you choose stationary, it sets up a circular boundary around you. When using the device, if you reach your hands or move your head close to the boundary, a grid (reminiscent of the Star Trek holodeck grid) appears. If you move your head outside the boundary it stops showing you the virtual world and shows you a grainy black and white image of the real world.

When you choose a roomscale experience, the guardian border works the same, but you use the hand controller to “draw” your own boundary. You need about 6ft x 6ft minimum, but you can go much bigger if you have more clear space. Here you can see the outline of my guardian, showing where I can go in the dome.

The guardian shows where I can safely walk within the virtual space

The geodesic dome is probably about 40ft across, give or take. So you would need a lot of space if you wanted to roam freely. I haven’t tried to test the limits, so the device might not even let you draw a guardian that big. But unless you happen to have an empty warehouse available to you, it’s a purely hypothetical question.

As it turns out, I do happen to have a very long living room. Not 40″ but I can get a guardian that’s about 8ft x 18ft. And after some experimentation, I discovered that I could orient my view with respect to the guardian in such a way that I actually could get close to the furniture. With a little bit more work, I can orient the view so that the virtual couch is in the same location as my real couch.

Let’s go over to the fire, shall we?

Here’s what the view looks like from the couch.

What a fabulous place to just sit

So why do I like the home screen so much? Because with a little finagling to get everything lined up Just So, I get to sit on my actual (comfortable) couch next to a cozy animated fire, and just be. Not check my cell phone or my email or my twitter, not be distracted by a mess I should be cleaning up or an undone To Do. Just exist. Enjoy the present moment. Quiet my busy mind.

Sometimes Ellie, our 100lb rescue pup, will see me on the couch and decide to join me. So I’ll be staring at a virtual fire scritching my real-but-invisible-to-me dog. Sitting there for 15 minutes, petting Ellie, enjoying the environment, and thinking about nothing in particular leaves me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

But wait, there’s more.

After a little more experimentation I discovered that I could actually walk outside the dome. Below is a view from just behind the couch.

It’s a lovely evening in Oculus Land. Let’s enjoy the view!

Notice the details in the art. The back of the couch is a wooden frame. Someone (or several someones) put a lot of care into every single detail in the home screen. Even parts of the scene that there is no reason to think a user would ever see are carefully crafted.

The one thing you can’t do is interact with any of the objects in the home screen. So when I want to do something more active than admire the view, I reach for one of my favorite apps. More on those in another post.

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