Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

A picture is worth a thousand words - a stock picture is worth much more
Woman using a virtual reality headset
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Right, good, you're here — we need to talk about something going on with virtual reality. It's not quite as important as, say, debating whether Mark Zuckerberg is, in fact, a time-hopping alien currently trapped on Earth, but it's important.

Okay, so you're aware of stock photos, right? You know the ones — around 60% of them feature a robotic-looking human forcing out a complicated gesture of emotion, and the rest are kids doing something no kid actually does, like, I don't know, read. In tech, they branch out and involve a borderline-creepy close-up of someone's finger about to tap on an app, or maybe someone pretending to type in a low-lit room.

Read this: The best virtual reality headsets

Nobody knows where stock photos come from, or what brand of human is involved with their being— truly one of life's great mysteries — but we do know that they're highly complex ballets depicting the human experience.

And in no area of stock photos is this eternal artistic struggle more apparent than when people are pretending to use VR. So come with us, valued Wareable reader, as we round up some of the wacky ways people are trying to convey what they're doing in VR and even take a stab at the potential wider context.

'Man in black sweatshirt in VR'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

Okay, right, let's just address one of the fundamental, vacuous themes you'll see cropping up here: people inexplicably using VR outside. Nobody has ever used VR outside. Not once. Why would you use VR outside, where there's cars, and uneven footing, and… bullies? It doesn't make sense.

So, take ol' adventure man in VR, over here. Just an ordinary man with a fleece, you're thinking, hanging about outside. No. Not only is this guy wearing a headset in the deep wilderness, he's also cowering behind some kind of boulder setup. We're not sure what ghoulish things are being displayed in that headset, but if it's enough to convince you that you need real-world objects to protect yourself, probably just go to the pub instead, or something.

'Excited gamer uses VR goggles'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

A real cornerstone of the stock photos experience right here; a couple with visibly contrasting emotions and an overarching issue being presented to the viewer. The reason for the breakdown in this relationship? You guessed it, pesky VR is at it again.

Now, the tag on this image suggests we could have a gaming addict on our hands. Brian, let's call him, plays everything. You name it, he's played it. He'll play you, if you're not careful. He'll do what he wants.

Read next: The best HTC Vive games you can play

Anyway, Brian is currently in the midst of a relentless quest to conquer Mario Kart with his eyes literally shut, and has just discovered the game is now playable in VR in arcades in Japan. Buoyed by the opportunity to extend his addiction internationally, Brian books two one-way tickets to Tokyo without consulting Mary, his wife, leading to her off-colour expression in the background. Mary, unimpressed, leaves Brian weeks later, only to quickly fall for an Italian plumber named Luigi. Full circle.

'Girl wearing VR box cycling'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

We'll gloss over the fact this is referred to as a VR 'box' in the tag and jump straight into the deeper issues here.

While this may seem like quite a friendly concept on display — you know, a kid horsing around with newfangled technology and capturing some essential vitamin D — we suspect something else is actually at play.

Teased by her friends days earlier, the girl in question aims to turn things around by trying out her new, high-octane standalone VR headset - packed with inside-out tracking, SLAM and a processor that literally runs faster than you.

"I'll show them," she maniacally cackles to herself. "I'll show them all."

She skillfully negotiates the pavements on the way to a local park before her daring plan backfires and she crashes. Knees are scraped, headsets are scrapped and lessons are learned.

'Young pregnant woman having fun with VR goggles'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

I've looked at this one for a while now, and I'm still no more comfortable with what's going on. Like, I don't understand anything about this. Do people think you can X-Ray a pregnancy in VR? Can you? I don't even know.

I'm also unsettled by the smile from pregnant woman. What does she know that we don't? Is she about to command the unborn child to roundhouse the unwitting man across the room in some kind of Prometheus-esque stomach bolt?

'Shocked girl sitting on bathroom toilet'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

Another mind-melting equation thrown into the mix here. And if you thought using VR outside was risky business, well, just imagine the trouble you have when you're completely blinding yourself to the potential sewer alligators sneaking up your toilet.

We're not suggesting that's what's going on here, though. No, for this customer, it's just another regular trip to the bathroom and passing the 45 seconds with a spell in VR. Thankfully, we're not privy to the final act of this performance, and frankly we're not going to speculate.

'Sexy couple enjoying virtual reality'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

I can't believe it took us this long to reference VR sex, but yet another strong entry in the stock catalogue here. Usually with news stories referencing the big s-e-x, stock photos are limited to people's feet hanging out at the end of the bed - that's the media vernacular for sex.

But VR has changed all that. And now that we're all apparently going to start neglecting our partners in favour of VR porn, stock photos are expanding and giving insight into a couple dealing with the issue.

Related: Can you find love in VR?

The woman in one is having a whale of a time. However, the same can't be said for the man. And worse still, like with many other people featuring on this list, he has a deep misunderstanding of the platform's interactive capabilities. Does he think that the VR men will go away if he shields and swats them away? It doesn't work like that. Not even close. Do you even remember Brian from earlier?

'Man shot in VR by pistol'

Analysing the deeper context behind stock images of people in VR

Quite a dark one to end on here. But, also, a mostly accurate summation of the ride provided by this selection of stock VR photos: an inexplicable message that applies to literally no scenario that's ever happened in real life, a deeply oblivious VR user and a resounding sentiment of 'What?' when viewed.

But, with that said, after viewing hundreds of stock images, I've learned to never play VR without locking all doors and windows first. Apparently there's pistol-toting maniacs waiting on the corner of your road, ready to rob you blind.


How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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