Article: Gamechanger – Why TimefireVR’s Hypatia is the future of Social VR.

By Paul Duplantis – 1/16/17

An ode to One Of The Most Brilliant Scientific Minds Of Antiquity, inspires a virtual world being built pixel by pixel in Scottsdale Arizona.  A world soon to be an educator’s dream where young minds wander the streets and studios of a mythical city to engage with art, science, logic, friendship and trade. A place where adults setup commerce to engage the minds of those who enter, forging a new reality in the virtual world of Hypatia.

My reaction after participating in a pre-alpha demo of Hypatia can be summarized in two words. Presence and Purpose.  Where the real world is ensconced in distraction, this virtual world breeds attraction. The minute I strapped on the HTC Vive goggles, I was transported into a world full of possibilities. From the finely rendered cobblestone streets to the sweeping architecture of a classic northern european city, no detail was left alone. Walking through the city I heard a faint reference to bubbling water to my right, gradually increasing in volume, eventually revealing a beautifully rendered water fountain to my right.

This attention to detail sets the tone for a commitment to not only scope but also context, where this virtual world serves more than just a destination of escape but one to participate in.

After the fountain, I made my way up a set of steps with a combination of hand controller and head movements, through a door into an art gallery, where I stumbled upon a wizard of oz prop with cutout faces of three munchkins.  Walking behind the prop, I instinctively poked my virtual face through the cutout when I was informed one of the avatars in this virtual world (who was demoing in other rooms) could take a picture of my avatar face in the cutout. Amazing!

I then walked over to a table with a palette and paintbrush sitting in front of an easel. With my controllers in hand I picked up the paintbrush with one hand, the palette with the other and proceeded to mix the colors on the virtual canvas drawing images as if I were painting on a real canvas. I then continued to explore the area, happening upon a room with early 20th century cameras sitting on a table. Picking up the camera, I could see the virtual room through the frame then snapped the shutter, capturing the moment to include images of the other avatars in the room. Looking for clues what to do next, I turned around to find a rack labeled chemicals to develop the film. I then realized I could pull the film out of the camera into the tray and treat it with chemicals to expose the film.  In all honesty, the chemicals were missing but the idea was there and out of the entire experience this was the only bug. Not bad for a pre-alpha demo.

But it was not only the finely rendered landscapes of a fictional city or the strategically placed assets to inspire learning and entertainment that provided a sense of amazement and wonder. No it was more than that. I learned Hypatia is a scalable ecosystem tilled with fertile digital soil, ready for the seeds of wonder, curiosity and empathy to be planted by an engaged user base. You see Hypatia is not only for the consumer of experiences. It is much more than that. It is an environment for the creator as well. A world where creators and consumers of experiences confluence to build a virtual world that cannot even yet be imagined.

From the words of founder John Wise, “In creating Hypatia we are looking at offering an environment that is not only a place to turn off the outside world and its worries, but will also be a refuge for the imagination.”

IMAGINATION: the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.

Therein lies the magic of Hypatia.  To be resourceful without boundaries.  Where in the real world our resourcefulness is confined by the natural laws of physics and proximity, the world of Hypatia is not. It is this combination of immersion and crowdsourced experiences that could potentially evolve into new ways to learn.

I was told by the team of a Ben Franklin character in development.  Now imagine Ben Franklin standing next to you discussing the properties of atmospheric electricity while you are flying a kite with his character. Now imagine an avatar standing nearby who is a science teacher ready to field your questions. Or a group of avatars represented by real people from all over the world who have interests in the physics of electrical properties. Could this world tap into what resonates with an individual opening new pathways for learning? Is Hypatia a new framework for hyper personalized learning? Time will tell.

As I made my way through this world of engagement, I wondered if resourcefulness and monetization have to be mutually exclusive? Or is the only way to make money in virtual worlds through the slaying of dragons or picking off assassins with an assault rifle?  By all appearances, the world TimefireVR is building is set to prove both wrong.

As of last month, a deal was brokered to open a virtual bicycle shop in Hypatia allowing users to browse through the store, choose a bike to test ride then purchase in the virtual world to be delivered in the real world. What if the customer standing next to the bike could see an exploded view of the gears on the bike to explain how shifting gears affects riding performance. This was not in the demo but something similar was and probably doesn’t capture the possibilities already considered by the dev team or for that matter what may be cooked up by a user in the future. Scalable commerce built around highly personalized, focused and actionable engagement. Sounds like an interesting business model to me.

As I wrapped up my demo, I forgot for a fleeting moment I was in a physical space. I truly felt I was somewhere else. Not a place to distract me from the real world but a place to attract me to what is possible in the real world. The first thought I had after removing my goggles was what a powerful tool this could be to engage the mind. Whether for educational, therapeutic, meditational, motivational, or just entertainment purposes, this world could trigger something inside of me I didn’t even know I was capable of or was interested in. The second thought was what a powerful tool this could be for a teacher to engage the young minds of pupils whether in a public, charter, private or home school setting. The applications are limitless.

Finally there is no doubt this is a 100% immersive world so this is not something you engage with while you are walking down the street or driving in a car. The goggles are a bit cumbersome now but even as they shrink, participants in Hypatia are going to be capturing this experience in a living, working or entertainment space. Not that you won’t be able to recreate motion in the near future through 360 degree treadmills and other rigs to simulate movement. With this, I believe Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality experiences will begin to increase the physical activity of participants not decrease it as many might think.Say what you will about Pokemon Go but when was the last time you witnessed 1,000 people running around in a park.

While I was waiting to begin the demo in the TimefireVR office, I had the opportunity to watch a number of teenagers engaging in the world of Hypatia and all I can say is I would be surprised if their fitbits survived. Something not lost on the executives in the room as they were beaming with pride.

It seems obvious to me TimefireVR is building a different type of social platform. One where the mission of resourceful engagement is baked into its DNA. Where attraction is incentivized and gamified over distraction. I like to consider myself a digital optimist but have to admit I have been let down by the preponderance of ad heavy noisy networks inviting dissonance in discourse over the last 5 years and feel the future is ready for a fresh approach as an option to choose. One steeped in revenue and purpose.  From all appearances it looks like the Hypatia team is up to the challenge and wish them all the luck in the world.

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