Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Sep. 23rd
Last night’s second annual Proto Awards—which are given out to honor innovation in Virtual Reality—was quite the show.
If you want a full list of winners you can head to the site for The Proto Awards. What you’re about to read are just my subjective impression of the affair: from the churros on the tables to the comedy bits on stage that didn’t always land true.
First up: churros. Man. Do they have it this good at the Oscars? I don’t think so. The Avalon Hollywood nightclub is host to all kinds of events—from record release parties to…well to award shows. Also a whole lot of concerts. It’s gorgeous. It’s old by Hollywood standards opening in 1927, and with a history that includes Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech and the Ramones. It is (can be?) kitted out with massive screens that make the whole thing sort of feel like a VR Cave. At least when you’re watching the action unfold from the balcony.
As a venue The Virtual Reality Foundation couldn’t have done better. There’s a romance to the Avalon, and its smaller club Bardot that is hard to fake.
Award shows themselves are a tricky beast. Does anyone really like them? You have to have a certain ironic distance to truly enjoy the absurdity of an given award show. On the one had the decision to acknowledge achievement is a noble one, and on the other: sitting around and watching other people win awards is inherently strange.
So we, as a culture, have decided that the way to break the tension is to have a host—usually a comedian—jump into that uncomfortable gap and burst the bubble for us. That’s exactly that host Jonah Ray set out to do. The room was not really having it, and Jonah knew it. He surged on, acknowledged the fact, and kept on point like a professional. As someone who genuinely likes Jonah’s comedy I was laughing—almost crying at points—all night. It’s my guess that the VR industry is a little too young for the self-depreciating comedy that is called for at entertainment industry awards shows. Those folks need to be reminded of how absurd their privilege is. Scrappy computer developers live in a world where they constantly know how absurd their lives are.
Jonah’s no slouch though, and his quick thinking created the second best moment of the night. Developer Blair Renaud (@anticleric) had already come up to accept an award in behalf of one winner before coming up to accept one himself. So when another winner was a no-show—and had no one there to accept—Jonah called Renaud back up. (This wasn’t the last time Renaud was on stage, either. That guy has a bright future as a humble accepter-on-behalfer.)
The best moment of the night came during the presentation of the Founders Award. Ivan Sutherland, considered the “Godfather of VR” for his pioneering work with computer images in head mounted displays in the 60s, addressed the crowd as he accepted the award. You can watch that speech at Road To VR. Now maybe it was just me, but you could feel the room rapt by his presence and words. There’s something awesome about seeing the current generation appreciative of the debt they owe to pioneers of the past, and when Sutherland told those assembled that he was proud of their work you could almost hear the sighing of a thousand hearts getting the approval they yearn for.
And there’s nothing wrong with yearning for approval. It’s fundamentally human. The number of people taking home trophies from this year’s Protos was a small bunch—but everyone who was sitting in that room got something more valuable: a real moment, thanks to Sutherland.
All that in just a couple of hours. The show moved forward with buttery smoothness, a feather in the cap of Adam Levin—the VRF board member who could be glimpsed managing the show from the side of the stage. Pretty great for a sophomore effort, and the kind of thing that sets a fine precedent for the years to come.