Computer Aficionado James Sheppard explores the world of virtual reality via an Occulus Rift headset…
A wondrous new computer technology that will open your mind to the digital advances of our age, generating images, sounds and other sensations that duplicate a real environment around you.
And enable your friends to jump scare you to an ignoble death.
My first time with VR was full of all the normal excitement, trepidation and wonder: I was like a dog learning how to open a cupboard door to the doggy treats slyly hidden away. A puppy in Narnia you might say. But in place of Mr. Tumnus, was a grouchy old fellow who had only just got over dial-up not being a thing anymore, and he was angry about it. How dare technology advance without warning! Back in his day you could hear the internet working, like giant cogs in a Victorian machine. Where’s the steam, eh? Where’s the hard work and elbow grease?
Well as I found out, VR is hard work in lots of different ways. Navigating an imaginary world that no one else can see, but is as real to you as the pint of coffee you need to function in the morning, is hilarious, mind-boggling and frightening all at the same time. Add a space that needs to be explored to be understood, and you can cancel those Wednesday spin classes you love and hate in equal measure.
Walking around a giant green room, a Occulus Rift Headset trailing wires behind me like a wedding train, I felt quite comfortable wandering around an illusory lab. I thought of myself as a mad scientist, a bit like Emmett Brown, shouting at Marty for messing up the space-time continuum again. I could pick up objects in this world, mix concoctions able to create giant fire-breathing mutant space hamsters, and then with the fickleness of a feline with a ball of twine, drop them ignorantly on the floor and generally cause havoc.
Then I found the robot dog.
Not realising that I squeaked in excitement, I threw myself at this pretend pixel effect, giddy with delight. My friends watching thought I had finally gone mad whilst I squealed: “It’s a Puppy!!” I could pet it, rub its belly, and even scratch it behind the ear to make its back leg reverberate like a speaker at a drum and bass night. Any dog lover and technophile would be speechless in gushing pleasure; It’s cute and the pinnacle of modern science? I want seven!
Whilst rolling around on the floor with my new friend, my old friends decided it was time I experienced something else. Something light hearted, whimsical and showcasing the best and brightest of this flagship technology. Something I would enjoy being completely immersed in.
Now I’m sure we all know, you should never trust your closest friends. They’re cantankerous, conniving, scheming conspirators of the worst degree. And they had just plotted a surprise for me.
With one button press, the environment around changed into a dank dungeon interior, flickering torches aligning the walls. What light was dimly playing around my view presented me with a single door. Apparently, I had been stranded in a labyrinth and had to get out. Easy I said; it’s just a game. I’ve got a lantern and a map, I’ll be fine. And off I blundered into the horrifying depths of some computer coders idea of a nightmare. If I ever find out who they were, they’re off my Christmas card list for life.
A few meandering corridors later, I’m thinking a lot of myself; I had found a room with a chair in it, a few interesting barrels contained some oil to keep my light going, and despite the ambient sound effects having me turn around every two seconds, I hadn’t jumped out of my skin yet.
Then I found the statue.
It was your standard gothic gargoyle. It took up all my vision rearing out of its alcove, not quite intimidating but still suspect nonetheless. It wasn’t moving, it didn’t appear to be alive, so I decided to investigate a chest on the other side of the room. Maybe it held the key out of this oubliette of oddities? So, off I went, sparing a cursory glance behind me.
The statue had moved.
When I say moved, it was stationary and unmoving, but no longer in its tucked away nook. I wish it had stayed there. I wish the shiver up my spine had stayed comfortably away. I wish my friends sniggers at my incoherent blabbering had stayed silent in their throats. It’s not easy trying to explain a fantasy figment of your imagination trying to scare the spots off you to people that can’t see it; just ask the kids from Elm Street.
Believing that chest may be my saviour, I scamper towards it the gargoyle leaving my vision for no more than half a second.
That half a second is enough.
In a horror version of Benny Hill, this statue chases me around the room but never moves. I’m screaming my lungs out asking for help, my friends are laughing so hard they sound like hyenas, and the wires are tangled around me like some deadly snake. I tear off the headset gasping for reality, cold sweat drenching me like a flood.
And the despondent Mr. Tumnus? He just winks at me and says:
“New technology, old tricks.”
He’s off my Christmas list too.