When Google released Cardboard, its crude paper-and-velcro VR headset, the tech company also released downloadable instructions for building your own. If Cardboard’s $15 price tag didn’t convey Google’s egalitarian message, the instructions did: VR is coming, so let’s make it as accessible as possible.
Two of the world’s biggest brands appear to have gotten the message. In mid-February, Coca-Cola released a tutorial demonstrating how to make VR viewers out of old Coke boxes. That’s as far as Coca-Cola’s efforts go (the video is part of the Coca-Cola Studios content series), but a new program from McDonald’s pushes the concept further. On Friday, with help from ad agency DDB, McDonald’s Sweden will begin selling Happy Meals in boxes that transform into VR headsets. The program is called Happy Goggles, and it will make a limited run of 3,500 headsets available at 14 McDonald’s restaurants across northern Sweden.
A Happy Meal box, if you think about it, is the perfect starting material for a rudimentary VR headset. It’s sturdier than typical paper, partly because the packaging has to hold the weight of hot, often greasy, food. It already has kids’ attention, because there are toys to be had inside. Plus, it’s already destined to become trash. “We try to bring education to our Happy Meals, and the answer was kind of staring us in the face,” says Jeff Jackett, marketing director for McDonald’s Sweden. Virtual reality felt like a natural fit.
Designers at DDB crafted the folds and perforations that help turn Happy Meal boxes into Happy Goggles. The devices don’t follow Google’s Cardboard template step-by-step; McDonald’s had to design their goggles around pre-existing packaging infrastructure, whereas Google’s instructions imagine the user working with a fresh sheet of cardboard. But the McDonald’s solution works. By tearing off eye and nose holes, folding up one-half of the box, and inserting lenses, you get a Cardboard-esque gadget in McDonald’s red. Customers who buy one can access a link on their smartphone to retrieve the inaugural Happy Goggles VR game, a low fidelity animated skiing-racing game called “Se upp i backen,” or, in English, “watch out on the slopes.” (“It sounds better in Swedish,” Jackett says.)
Happy Goggles, like the Happy Meal itself, is a marketing gimmick. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. When The New York Times mailed out 13-million Google Cardboard sets with its Sunday newspaper last November, lots of people remarked on how powerful it was to watch children engage with the headsets—including WIRED. “We had a collective sense that our kids were experiencing something meaningfully new,” we wrote, “not just an encounter with a new technology, but with a new way of relating to technology.” Virtual reality can take you, however briefly, to places you’ve never seen. Done well, it’s an absolute thrill. And now you can order it at the drive-thru.