Loosing my VR Virginity

It was last Sunday, July 24th, and I was on a quest. I was on a mission. I was going to find the absolute hidden gems that were the $5 bargain bin at my local GameStop. I was on the hunt for Xbox 360 and Wii games. Sure I have an Xbox One, but sometimes it’s that title you wipe the dust off of that gives you hours of pure adrenaline nostalgia, as much as you can have for a title that was released in 2005, but I’m 19, and that was ages ago.

In the corner of my eye, I scanned my surroundings and saw a perfectly squared off area of the GameStop store tired up with ropes in the shape of a rectangle, inside was just an empty space, and a PC setup. The PC had a red pulsing light and looked expensive, like really expensive ($1300 to be exact).

There was a small sign on the display that said “see clerk for VR demo”, and I knew that I was going to loose my VR virginity that day. Is that a thing? Who cares? VR! So I waited in the line of 3 people that somehow still took an eternity, and then I finally walked up empty handed. I said “Look, I’m not interested in buying Game Informer magazine and I’m not looking to pre-order Evolve 2 on Xbox One. I need to try the VR demo!

The lady at GameStop was very nice and walked over with my girlfriend and I to the Vive VR demo area and had me stand in the center. “I need you to put on the Vive headset and make sure it’s comfortable and that it blocks out any outside light”. The headset fit right over my face and felt snug, like swimming goggles. “Great, now I need you to reach your hands out, I’ll place the controller in your hands”. “Wonderful, now I’m going to place the headphones over your hears now”, and then I saw a flicker of light. I heard the boot up sound of the Vive VR system in full swing.

Picture of me taken by my girlfriend, Eva, during my first ever VR demo at GameStop.

I took a breath as I was instantly transformed into another reality. “This is the future” I said. My girlfriend Eva took a SnapChat to capture the moment for all of eternity. I had been completely and utterly transformed into the Vive. I could hear the voice of the GameStop VR lady over the gentle sounds of the Vive’s home portal area. “Now this first demo is non-interactive, you don’t need to perform any actions, just walk around, and enjoy the scenery”. I didn’t know what to expect. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the ocean, which is very strange as my body didn’t feel right due to the fact I was breathing oxygen and my brain told me I should be drowning. To the advice of the GameStop lady, I did not freak out (that is, on the outside. On the inside, I was freaking out). I saw a huge whale, to scale with my actual human sized body, swim majestically over me. It’s hard to put into words how that first experience felt. To put things into perspective, I compare this to my very first time I was on an airplane and felt the wheels begin to lift off as my heart dropped and I took for the skies. This experience was 10 times more intense, and it felt more real.

The ocean experience ended and it was time for the second, and interactive demo. “Tilt Brush” by Google was the second third of the demo, and it gave me complete artistic freedom. I could paint, but not just in one dimension, I could paint in all three dimensions. Not only could I paint in the sky in real time, I could then walk around my creations. At the press of a button, guided by the GameStop employee’s voice, my blank surroundings were now the stars and galaxies of the universe. I was floating as if in the brink of creation. I drew stars, Doge faces, penguins, and 3D cubes into the sky before the demo timer ended and the Tilt Brush demo faded into the third and final demo…

Picture of a skull drawn in Tilt Brush, photo credit: INVERSE.com (not my drawing)

“This last demo is an FPS experience with robots in space” the GameStop employee said. That description alone was enough to capture my full attention. Soon I was on a space base like something you would see in the latest StarWars movie. The scene was complete with a giant star ship behind my back. Soon, robots flew across the screen as I blasted them with the intuitive Vive dual controllers. When I put a controller behind my back and brought it back out in front of me, it had transformed into a shield!

I remember distinctly as I took a break from the robots to just hold the shield and pull it right into my face, I could see every pixelated detail of the shield in high quality as I stared at it. Just in time, I was able to swing it to the right to just hardly block the incoming missiles from the robots. I then turned to dual wielding auto blasters and took care of all the robots in time before the demo quit.

When the GameStop employee carefully took my goggles off, my body had a slight moment of shock as I “re-enetered” the realm of reality. I won’t lie, there was an adjusting period when I returned to the real world. I was a bit shocked at myself with how hard it was to get used to natural sun light shining through the big glass windows of the GameStop store.

I thanked the kind employee and then passed the goggles onto my girl friend, Eva. She had a very similarly amazing experience as I had just had. This time, I was able to see things from a third person perspective. I could see what it looks like to the people around me when I was in the VR realm.

I think the future of VR is bright, and it is definitely, the future. And while it’s all rainbows and butterflies, I still worry about its implementations of VR in the future. I worry that we could one day reach a real world situation similar to Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” where the realm of Virtual Reality becomes more desirable than the less than stellar, real world. I believe there is a time and a place for everything however, and I see VR as an inevitable yet exciting “second frontier”…