I finally tried out the whole VR thing
Find out if I tripped on the cord!
My friend’s birthday was this past weekend, so a group of us gathered together for Italian food and various alcoholic beverages. (My acid reflux gave me a hard “NO” on the booze, so sadly I was completely sober for this whole event. I apologize, as I know this piece would be more entertaining if that wasn’t the case.)
We followed up the imbibables by running into the basement for some VR time.
I’d never VRed. Neither had many of the others participating, so everyone was nervous and silly. We anticipated most of the fun would come from watching each other blindly stumble around the room.
When you think about it, if that was the experience we were after, we could have just played Marco Polo.
But virtual reality had the luster of something untasted and untried, so we went for it. For the nerdy amongst you, the headset was of the Vive variety. It fastened to the face with black straps and a long cord ran out the back. I was worried about that cord. I am not graceful and the cord was taunting me.
“You will trip on me,” it said. “You will trip on me and you can’t even blame your fall on booze.”
“Shut up, stupid cord,” I responded quietly, so the others wouldn’t hear.
Player One stepped up, ready to jump in head first. But his game was stalled by the home base environment.
“It’s so pretty,” he said in awe.
Home base wasn’t visible to me and the other watchers, so all we could see was him seeming dazzled. He looked up, “Oooh.” He looked side to side, “Ahhhh.” He looked down at the floor, “Well, that’s a floor, I guess.” Then he spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out the menu so he could get to a game.
This was… not exactly enthralling.
But then the game loaded and so did the fun!
As music came blaring through the laptop, an alien world appeared. Balls started floating in screen and Player One would bop them on time with the beat. It was the sort of scene you’d expect to see in a futuristic nightclub where the hero has to dance battle his way past the evil genius. The concept was simple enough that even I probably wouldn’t have screwed it up too badly.
I was up next.
Trepidatious, I took my glasses off and placed the headset on my head. Immediately I was surrounded by light and color. I was in a simple room and there were mountains outside. I went outside. I looked around. I knew I looked dumb, but I didn’t care.
“Isn’t it cool‽” asked Player One.
Reader, it was cool.
I was immersed in a mountain scene, standing on a porch while snowy peaks soared above me. It made me wonder how far we are from taking VR vacations instead of the real thing. Insert a margarita and a beach and the whole thing wasn’t bad.
But my audience was getting impatient, so I returned to the room, where a menu waited for me. Some awkward scrolling and clicking led me to Tilt Brush, a 3D painting program created by Google.
I could pick either a blank canvas or from a series of preexisting masterpieces.
One of the options was “Coachella”. I tried so hard to pick that one. I clicked on it and waited and waited, but the request was too much for my friend’s laptop, which was probably sentient and aware that Coachella is not a good idea for me.
I still cling to the dream of setting purple, fire monsters loose on a desert, music festival. One day, my friends. One day.
So I was doomed to the blank canvas, but that was okay. First I created a dense, constellation of twinkling stars. Then I stepped out of the stars and created a tree. I could hear my friends compare the tree to an acid trip.
But they were wrong. It was a beautiful tree.
There is something very meditative about 3 dimensional painting in a virtual environment. You’re completely surrounded by your canvas and there aren’t any distractions. It’s just you and your artwork in a safe little world without judgement or expectations. There’s gotta be therapeutic benefits to this technology, to allowing the act of creation to become a song that unfolds out of you.
It’s very different from the hours I spend clicking things inside of Adobe Illustrator.
When I took off the headset and glanced at the laptop screen, I was surprised by how dull and flat my artwork looked. It was nothing like the vibrant world I’d gotten to see inside the headset. Player Three put the headset on and took a look at the art I’d made.
“Whoa,” he said. “Yeah, this is really different.”
We spent the rest of the night watching Player Three zoom around like superman in Google Earth.
Eventually he drifted down closer to the Earth. Instead of viewing the great wonders of the world, like Machu Picchu or Notre Dame Cathedral, we fed him the addresses of each of our childhood homes. One by one, Player Three visited each house, like some kind of nostalgia-driven Santa Claus without any gifts. He walked the virtual streets of our childhoods while we oohed and ahhed, all kinds of memories surfacing.
I gotta say, if you have the opportunity to experience VR, try and do it with friends. I expected my first time with virtual reality would be isolating and lonely, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
VR doesn’t have to pack us up into little boxes apart from each other. There are possibilities for connection and moments of shared understanding. I guess that was the biggest surprise of the whole experience.
That and the fact that no one tripped on the cord.