Virtual Reality is really real (but not really)

maxresdefaultHoly crap! I just tried a virtual reality rig for the first time.  My friend Simonas has a complete set up and has been asking me to come try to out for a while. He’s been telling me about VR truck driving and air traffic controlling but honestly, I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. 

Mostly, when we get together, we go out to the movies but today, we were hanging out at his place and watching Suicide Squad (which I had to do for a piece I’m writing). He’s got a nice projection system and I knew it would be easier to watch there than at our place. So when we were making plans, he made sure I built-in extra time to try out the VR.

Holy crap! (Did I say that already?) It’s amazing. I kept laughing and yelling expletives and Simonas kept wanting to know why. I tried to explain that for me, this really was the future. When I was a kid, we’d get an 8 bit Atari game for Hanukkah and be so thrilled at those basic graphics and game play because, well, that was the state of the art at the time.  My friends and I all played D&D, but that was in our imaginations – the closest we came to that in a video environment was Adventure.

What I experienced today was like stepping inside my imagination. It was a total, 360 degree three-dimensional world. And the first thing he put me through was a plank walk at 300 feet up. You go up in an elevator then step out onto a plank which juts away from the building (see picture above). Now, I know I’m in his flat and standing on the ground, but when he told me to take a step to my right, off the plank, I honestly hesitated and had to talk myself into it. Then when I did, I felt like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, stepping out into nothingness and feeling relief I didn’t fall.

Until I did. I fell straight down, 30 stories or so, and went right through the ground into a completely white space. Simonas laughed at me and then offered to show me different games. For my part, I was giggling like Monki.

The first game he set me up in was a first person shooter where I was to take out zombies. After a few minutes of learning the controllers, we started things up. After I shot my first zombie, he said “look behind you.” See, he could see everything on the computer monitor while I was inside the world. I spun around and there was another zombie shambling towards me. I shot him while Simonas laughed and reminded me I had to reload. By this time there were several zombies and I was shooting and reloading as fast as I could. And I was freaking out. As soon as I cleared the first level, I changed games. I literally was too creeped out by these things to continue with this game. I was in heaven!

We tried several more games, including one where you punched multiple color balls coming out you, all timed to the music of your choice (I chose Bowie’s Modern Love while Simonas used Black Betty) then a couple of different archery games (with haptic feedback – I learned a new term) and a sampler pack that had a robot dog you could pet and throw sticks for. Then there was the virtual movie theatre, where you could watch a film in what looked like a full size theatre, complete with empty audience or your home screening room (or my favorite, sitting in a boat in a water filled venue while the film screened in front of you). According to Simonas, the games I tried were Richie’s Plank Experiment (in which he thankfully did not give me the spiders!), The Brookhaven Experiment, Audioshield Holopoint, The Lab, CMoar VR Cinema, and American Truck Simulator.

The most amazing thing, though, was the realization that in ten years, when Monki is the age I was when I started playing Adventure, this 3D VR will be standard equipment. She’ll laugh at me when I wax nostalgic about the hours I spent playing Asteroids or Space Invaders on our Atari 2600, the same way I never wanted to watch TV in mom and dad’s room because it was in black and white and color was so much better. But the thing is, the difference between my folks’ generation and mine is so much greater than the difference between theirs and their parents. And the difference between all the changes I’ve experienced in my life are actually much greater than I think what Monki will experience. She’ll grow up with knowing anything is possible while I had the future unfold before me.

And as for virtual reality… over at David, we just did a story about VR being used for medical training. Yup, I can see that. I can see VR being used for a number of things which will make life better or training less expensive and dangerous or even allow people to experience things there’s no way they could experience them in real life – not just fighting zombies, but you could easily walk through a museum or tour ancient ruins or, if you’re confined to a bed, just get outside for a little while. The holodeck is real and I certainly feel like I’m living in the future my imagination promised.


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