We’re Just Starting To Tap Into Virtual Reality’s Cute Potential

If you thought cat YouTube was huge...

Giphy/Puppy Bowl

The Puppy Bowl, Animal Planet’s counterprogramming to men giving each other micro-concussions, will be in 360 video for the first time next February. It’s not quite virtual reality (though you can watch it in a Google Cardboard) but it’s a step closer to realizing VR’s potential. We’re about to be able to transport the viewer into unparalleled worlds of cute.

Until now, cuteness-in-VR has looked something like Henry the hedgehog. Henry, who has a namesake Oculus Story Studio short film, is cute. But he’s cute in the way that heroes in Pixar fables are cute: it’s his art direction, not his reason for being.

You can’t say the same about the Puppy Bowl, or any of the millions of cats doing dumb things on YouTube. There’s no context — none is needed for cuteness in a void — just a warm bowl of what the Japanese call kawaii. That’s backpacks with big eyes and floppy ears, or Pikachu on the side of a jumbo jet.

People, of course, love cute, which when boiled down to the essential elements are things that look like babies. This is good for the human species — wanting to protect and cherish babies means more humans in the long run. We love cute so much, in fact, behavioral experiments reveal that humans looking at cute things display traits of both affection and aggression.

What will cute VR be made of? To look to cute destinations that already exist, perhaps it’s a forest overrun with dogs:

Or something weirder:

In the the short term, while we figure things out like eye strain and the awkwardness of wearing VR headsets and making this appealing to people who don’t want to murder space-pirates, cute VR is one solution. You’re in, you get your virtual puppy therapy, and you carry on.