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I thought I had a handle on this whole virtual reality thing. After all, I’d experienced a few demos, including a full 360o one from an HTC Vive system in my own home that was pretty darn convincing.
So I thought I was well prepared for a demo from VRPark at the recent New York Photo Plus Expo. Their VRPark Capsule looked like it would provide a pretty realistic VR experience. It had two egg-shaped cockpits for a friend and me to sit in, and it moved around on its base to provide motion simulation. I figured it was a virtual rollercoaster ride.
But before strapping us in and fitting us with VR helmets, the woman working the Capsule asked, “Do you want the nice ‘travel’ demo or the scary demo?”
“Um . . . um . . . let’s go for the scary demo!” I knew it wasn’t real so how scary could it be?
The goggles winked alive to the image of a ride at an amusement park. Yeah, OK, a rollercoaster—but then the “ride” pulled us up and back like a giant swing, up . . . and up . . . and UP! Hundreds, maybe thousands of virtual feet into the air!
I’d neglected to mention that I have a fear of heights—a completely incapacitating fear of heights. I can’t go on my roof to clean the gutters. When I get in glass elevators, I have to look at the floor.
So when we went rocketing into the sky, I was terrified. I had a bird’s-eye view of the virtual amusement park, the surrounding houses, the trees, the whole town rendered in vivid 3D detail. I broke out in a sweat. I grabbed the ride’s handgrips as hard as I could. The motion of the ride and the sounds through the headphones—including people screaming—only added to the intensity.
Yaaahhhh! I kept telling myself, “It’s not real!” Didn’t matter. My primitive reptile brain took over my rational mind. I got dizzy. After just a few seconds, I couldn’t take it and closed my eyes.
Then I told myself, I’ll get used to it. I opened my eyes again. It’s not real . . .
We were now way high up, upside down, facing the sky and looking at clouds! Then the ride dropped precipitously, almost hit the ground, and swung back up like a pendulum! Gggaaaahhhh! At that point, I was screaming along with the people in the headphones.
I had to close my eyes again. But I didn’t want to wimp out through the whole demo so I re-opened them. The virtual ride was now rotating on its axis with the world tumbling end over end. The VR capsule continued to plummet, tumble, spring up, accelerate, and decelerate. I was totally rushing out holy jeezuz H. gawd almighty AAAH! AAAHHH! AAAAAAAHHHHH!
Maybe I shoulda tried a yoga or relaxation video. Finally, the ride stopped. I got out, unsteady, sweating—and more exhilarated than I’d been in years. (Sorry, angioplasty doesn’t count.) Whadda ride! Talk about entertainment!
Suffice to say my perspective on virtual reality has changed.
I’d thought it was a fun way to enhance video gameplay, aid in pilot and astronaut training, and maybe become a stupid novelty for video porn. (Missed that demo at CES.) Now I realize it’s far beyond that, that the line between virtual and actual reality can be readily blurred and not just because of ever-improving technology.
At its best, VR overrides your rational brain and evokes visceral, instinctual, and emotional responses so strongly your mind can’t resist. Your id and body take over.
If virtual reality can provoke that strong a reaction, I would argue that it might as well be reality. Not a new concept, I know (ref. The Matrix or Neuromancer or any number of sci-fi novels and films). But wait till you try it—then tell me how you feel.
Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.