This piece is a guest contribution from Wendi Ndaki. A freelance writer at the intersection of games, art and IT.

My first virtual reality experience was surreal. I remember feeling like I was floating while I spun around in the chair I sat on, looking up, down and sideways to take it all in. 

Virtual reality, simply put, is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the fictional world of a character. Once you wear the VR headset, that’s it. You virtually look everywhere and all you see is what the character is seeing until you realize that in this new reality, you cease being a passive observer and become the main character in the story.

Ng’endo Mukii’s award-winning film ‘Nairobi Berries’ was my first encounter with VR. This was in 2018. Not only did it feel like I was in another dimension, but I also got lost in a dreamlike state. 

Have you experienced VR before? If so, what was your first VR experience like? Was it a film or a game? Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below.

In 2020 the AR/VR Africa Hackathon had over 1000 participants from 28 African countries. The XR solutions that were made cut across a variety of industries highlighting the potential of XR development on the continent. 

What does XR really mean?

XR stands for extended reality and is the mother acronym for VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality).

VR (virtual reality) as earlier described through my personal experience, involves immersing people into 360 virtual environments. And in order to experience it, you need a VR headset.

AR (augmented reality) involves adding virtual characters and objects to real-world surroundings. This is what you see on Snapchat face filters and in the famous game Pokemon Go.

MR (mixed reality) involves the fusion of VR and AR.

VR and AR usage are growing as more people stay home and pursue virtual activities aligned with crowd avoidance and physical distancing.

Why XR is taking off

XR is taking off in the gaming world and just like gamification it’s going beyond gaming and sipping into the corporate world. AR and VR are increasingly being seen as viable replacements for in-person training, meetings, events, conventions, customer service and healthcare.

Judith Okonkwo, the founder of Imisi3D, an XR creating lab based in Nigeria, states that XR is only limited by the creator’s imagination. And although the ecosystem acquires new stakeholders with time, there is definitely more room on the table to figure out XR, particularly VR’s direction in Africa. 

Especially around the issues of healthcare and education. 

XR is relevant to Africa because it provides us with an opportunity to use it in tackling the challenges we have in the continent. VR for instance can be employed as a problem-solving tool in education on the continent in the following ways: 

  1. To bridge the shortfall we have in public schools where we have large class sizes and very limited facilities. A VR lab will allow the simulation of chemistry labs so that students can do class experiments.
  2. To allow virtual field trips, for instance to the pyramids of Egypt or into space to explore the solar system. Trips that would otherwise not be economically viable given African countries economic standing are now viable through VR.

XR Hackathons on the Continent

I love that hackathons such as the AR/VR Africa 2020’s Hackathon awarded their winners with cash prizes. This goes on to confirm the viability of the industry on the continent especially to friends and family members of those actively participating. 

Fast forward to 2021, 4 years after my first encounter with VR, I successfully completed VR training by BlackRhino VR. To round off we were expected to participate in an extended reality XR hackathon. 

I remember how nervous that made me feel. I knew a friend who had participated in the AR/VR hackathon and won an award. So I reached out to my friend Roy for some advice. And his advice was sound because our AR solution ended up winning an award.

Hackathons and Gamathons are prevalent in the African gaming scene. I have come to value the experience they carry. It is also encouraging to see how Africans are actively participating in them. 

On that note have you participated in a hackathon before? If so, what has been your most memorable hackathon experience so far? If not, there is always a first time for everything. XR hackathons and gamathons are popping up everywhere. They are great ways to meet people, upskill and build your portfolio.

Let’s immerse ourselves in this alternate reality as creators and active participators. I’m sure just like me you will have a lot of great experiences to share. I for sure know I will never forget my first XR experiences as a content creator and a consumer.