What If Web Browsing Were Like A Virtual Reality Videogame?

Using the Oculus Rift headset, a doctoral student imagines turning flat web pages into something like a 3-D first-person-shooter game.

What if web browsing weren’t so much like “calling up a series of boring flat pages” and more like “running around a weird castle in a 3-D first-person-shooter game”? That’s the unlikely question answered by James McCrae in his project called FireBox.


McCrae, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto, began creating FireBox as a tool for learning how to work with the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset. Strap on the Rift, which looks sort of like a pair of ski goggles with a couple of screens in front of your eyes, and the movement of your head translates to movement you see. Turn your head to the left, and the world you see will turn to the left as well.

The Rift, at the moment, is sort of a developer toy and only works with (fairly high-powered) computers. But nobody has combined the Rift with a web browser in quite this way. FireBox (the name is a riff on the Firefox browser) re-creates the World Wide Web as a sort of layered castle. When you fire up FireBox, it looks as though you’re wandering around a rendered room full of doors. But each door is actually a link. So instead of clicking on a link, you can just walk through the door.

Images on websites are presented as hanging paintings on the walls. To get a closer look, you can just walk up to them. The best part? It’s a collaborative, wide-ranging project, so people can create a virtual world for each website. The Reddit site has a giant version of that alien logo leering at you as you walk in. Go to a site about space and you may be thrust right into space itself, watching the stars above. It’s a totally new way to experience the web.

“My vision,” McCrae told us via email, “is of a huge inter-connected virtual world, weaved together by the users themselves, who can collaboratively browse and navigate this world, meeting contextually in places, and all served up using the existing network of HTTP servers.” It turns websites into something very different from web pages: They become places.

So what’s next? “I would like to expand on the variation which is possible so that room designs are increasingly varied and surprising,” McCrae says, “adding dynamic content, making it easier to import existing 3-D geometric content in different formats, add collaborative or “multiplayer” experiences, potentially support other existing standards (e.g. VRML or X3D).” In other words, turning the web into something one can explore in a more interactive, game-like way than it is now. It’s a pretty amazing idea.

[via Prosthetic Knowledge]

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.