Oculus Quest 2 is an incredible leap into an untethered VR future, but at what cost?

It’s hard to properly capture how amazing it is to slip into Oculus Quest 2’s alternative dimension. I’ve owned and play a plethora of VR headsets over the years – from the second iteration of the Oculus Rift years ago at an expo, where the blurry Godzilla-style city smashing game made me sick to my stomach in seconds, through to my own Gear VR, Oculus Go, and PSVR. Each has dangled the promise of VR immersion, but with enough caveats (overheating, low resolution, screen door effect, clunky setups) to stop them from realising the medium’s potential.

So it’s with a mixture of triumph and trepidation that I can tell you, after two days with the newly-released Oculus Quest 2, the dream is finally here. Triumph, because it not only removes those lingering issues but its cable-free, high framerate/resolution experience exceeds even your highest expectations. The store is packed with great games and experiences. Digital delivery is quick and easy.

But trepidation because this is very much a Facebook machine, in ways you maybe hadn’t anticipated, which could very well outweigh its incredible potential.

From the off, there is no way to even start the headset’s true function without first linking it permanently to a Facebook account (while it is true that forced integration of existing Oculus accounts into Facebook is still a few years away for legacy devices, it is a requirement with the Quest 2). Once they are connected, it (apparently) cannot be reversed. So, if you have an existing Oculus account (as I did) and the first person to play the headset accidently links it to their Facebook, then it becomes their account.

I’m lucky that my only (remaining) Facebook account is one I set up for my students years ago – open and free to access, it is devoid of any family or behavioral details. But be under no illusion that the Quest 2 is here to scrape information on you, and your friends, and your life, and pass it to Facebook for their own purposes. They’ve been upfront in the new terms & conditions that they not only track what you click, but also how long you look at something even if you don’t click it. Every thing you do on the Quest 2 is a data point.

You could argue that it is no different to what Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo/Steam do already, but there is one giant sticking point with that argument. With those more traditional consoles, account restrictions usually come from more focused issues like modding or account trading. It’s not the usual behaviour of the common consumer to run into issues of that kind.

The Quest 2, though, is very much as locked a console platform as the PlayStation or Xbox. Forget about the older headsets with removeable storage and easily loadable programs. So that means, as your Oculus account and Facebook profile are basically now the same thing, one can directly affect the other. This opens a massive can of worms in the form of Facebook restrictions; basically, if you post something that Facebook doesn’t like, your entire Oculus account could disappear with your profile. This is a huge grey area, especially in the lens of 2020 – would you be less eager to make a snap joke about the right-wing white supremacist leader of a country getting the virus he’d said was no big deal if you thought you might lose all of your VR purchases?

Never before has a games console been so attached to a completely different product, where behaviour on one will directly influence access on another. But never before has there been a VR headset that drops you directly into your own Holodeck with such beauty and elegance. It’s been a long road for me to find a VR headset that ticks all my boxes (especially as Rez Infinite is so incredible on it too), so with the added bonus of already having a vanilla Facebook account to link, it’s likely an acceptable barrier for me.

But I wonder how many will just not take that chance.