Facebook's purchase of Oculus Rift brings us one step closer to the social media apocalypse

Facebook is not a gaming company. It sells adverts on the back of our data
  • @davidcrookes

Social media has always struck me as being a little odd, not entirely in concept but certainly in description. Although it is great for getting ideas out there and touching base with people who are just so hard to reach in the real world, there is nothing social in whipping out a phone to interact with friends and random strangers while out and about with real life friends and family.

But if you think that is bad, just fast forward a few years when Facebook isn't just on phones and tablets but right into front of people's eyes, so dominant that even if you shook your head furiously, status updates and online chats – in whatever form they will take a few years from now – will remain in full view of your peepers.

For this, we will thank Facebook's purchase of Oculus Rift, a technology that has been impressing gamers and earning itself front covers of leading videogame magazines across the world. The device was being heralded as the comeback for virtual reality mainly because it has actually cracked the technology - it certainly betters the monochrome graphics of Nintendo's ill-fated Virtual Boy of the mid-1990s.

Yet when Oculus Rift emerged in 2012 and succeeded in securing $2,437,429 for development via Kickstarter, the makers never believed it would come to this. The technology has proved its credentials with cutting-edge visuals and sound accompanying virtual worlds that can be explored with a helmet over the player's head and mere turns of the neck. Now it's the plaything of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who talks of making it a “platform for many other experiences”. Like, we would assume, social networking and being bombarded with adverts based on what data it has gleaned from us.

Facebook says its purchase will, for the moment at least, be able to continue doing what it had set out to achieve: creating an incredible gaming experience. With Doom 4, Team Fortress and Miner Wars 2081 earmarked for it, it is certainly well supported. Last year, legendary game programmer John Carmack – the man behind titles such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D - joined the Oculus team as its new Chief Technology Officer. Everything, it seems, is set for players' eyes to see gaming in a whole new way, lapping up a 7-inch screen with stereoscopic 3D that immerses them into playing scenarios like never before.

But even though Facebook has tried to soothe the pain of those who believe the purchase to be bad news – there is no doubt it has caused a rift among the Oculus crowd – the device is not only about games any more. That scares some people, such as Minecraft creator Markus Persson who has decided to cancel the porting of his game to the new platform. “Facebook creeps me out,” says Persson. And to that you can only say, “Fair enough”.


Why? Because Facebook is not a gaming company. It encourages people to get together in groups online and share data about themselves. It sells adverts on the back of the information it amasses and it becomes very rich in the process. If Facebook is going to harness Oculus Rift for social networking, as we envisage it will do, then what a creepy world that is going be.

People will be immersed in the social network like never before: users will have masks containing screens over their eyes for a start. But not only will this worrying sight mean social networkers will be truly cut off from the real world, we – and let's not kid ourselves because so many of us are Facebookers today - would be absorbing all manner of adverts, cat videos and VR selfies in some kind of Clockwork Orange-esque nightmare.

Of course, all of this is still a few years away but it's still troublesome to picture Facebook users in helmets; you seeing them but them not seeing you. It potentially takes online social networking to another, perhaps darker level. Worse of all, if so many people end up in Facebook's make-believe land, who would you go to the pub with to debate the fall of mankind – and then ignore if they get too dull? It's enough to drive you virtually insane.

To read an opposing view, from Oculus Rift game developer E McNeill, click here