Last weekend, virtual reality pioneer Nonny de la Peña posted a strongly-worded public statement saying how “dismayed” she was to learn that Palmer Luckey has been secretly supporting a pro-Trump advocacy group. This was not surprising, given that Nonny is Mexican-American and has personally experienced the kind of anti-Latina racism Trump regularly trades in. What is surprising but less well-known is this irony: Palmer Luckey may well owe some of his very success in VR to Nonny de la Peña.
- Palmer Luckey was de la Peña’s intern at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, learning and honing much of his VR abilities under her guidance.
- Working with de la Peña in 2012, Palmer Luckey originally built what would become a prototype for the Oculus Rift (nearly a year before his famous Kickstarter) for her acclaimed “Hunger LA” VR experience at the Sundance Film Festival.
- Due to their history together, it's safe to say Nonny de la Peña will probably end up testifying in Zenimax’s lawsuit against Oculus VR, which asserts that Luckey “lacked the training, expertise, resources” to actually build the Rift prototype. Since Nonny de la Peña gave Palmer Luckey much of that very training, expertise, and resources, she is likely the very best witness to protect Palmer Luckey’s credit for creating the Rift.
I just got a chance to talk with Nonny (I’ve known her since she was developing VR projects in Second Life) and she tells me she stands by her Facebook statement. What’s more, she added, she’s hardly the only Latinx offended by the Luckey/Trump revelation:
Nonny de la Peña discussing her role at the start of Palmer Luckey’s career (2015)
Immediately after the Luckey/Trump news broke, she was inundated with questions by many other Latino and Latina members of the industry, who were worried about what this meant for their careers in VR. “There’s a lot of people that have pinged me, that’s all I can say,” she told me.
This matches what Buzzfeed has just reported, of minorities seriously reconsidering their commitment to VR, or at least Oculus’ platform. Because while some in the business say the question of Luckey’s Trump support simply falls in the “causes that matter to them” category, people who are actively being targeted by those causes may not agree.
Please share this post: