Meet the Man Who Wants to Reimagine Virtual Reality
“Imagine being able to perform one of the world’s most dangerous and technically difficult stunts with little to no training, no parachuting experience, no cost for equipment and setup, and no risk of death trying to pull it off. What would you do (and how much would it cost) for such an experience?” — JUMP
I got to interview James Jensen, the CEO of JUMP, a virtual reality (VR) company designed for users to perform stunts with no training, parachuting, no cost for equipment, and no safety risks. As an amateur with no experience, expertise, or money to feel like virtual reality was accessible, Jensen dispelled my notions. Jensen has an objective for the virtual reality industry: to make it more accessible instead of having it mainly be perceived as an entertainment and video game tool:
“I want people to know that hyperreality simulations are ways for us to learn new things to ourselves and to learn experiences that could influence our walking life,” Jensen told me.
Jensen is trying to make a hyper-reality base jump adventure where people can experience the thrill of stunts without the experience and danger required. After leaving The VOID at the beginning of 2018, Jensen had stylistic differences with the VOID’s direction and wanted to make an extreme sports virtual reality company where people who experience virtual reality through JUMP don’t just have an escape away from reality, but take away vital aspects to improve their own lives.
He was inspired to make JUMP a company as an evolution of what he was working on at his previous company, THE VOID, a virtual reality experience that allows someone to travel to their favorite film. THE VOID currently has experiences in Jumanji, Nicodemus, and Ghostbusters to travel to a virtual world.
A big inspiration for creating JUMP was a friend and advisory board member, Marshall Miller. Miller is an extreme sports athlete and BASE jumper who has made over 10,000 jumps. Miller showed Jensen some of his wingsuit experiences, and the two talked about how they could pull off the same kind of reality in the virtual world.
Jensen wants not only to replicate but to improve the hyper-reality experience he was a part of at THE VOID. He remembers sitting at the exit of the virtual reality experience at THE VOID and seeing people's faces as they came out of the experience.
“You come in as an adult on one side and a kid on another side,” Jensen said. “Once you do that, there’s a convergence and you build a memory on that level because there are so many inputs.”
People came out in awe of what they could experience and felt renewed as if they could do anything. Jensen is working with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley at the University of San Francisco. The two worked together on a program called “Sensync,” a virtual experience for wellness to reduce stress and give Deep Brain Massages.
In THE VOID, Jensen felt like people were entering into their flow states for the first time. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a flow state is a state of consciousness where people experience enjoyment, creativity, and life engagement. Jensen expressed that people in their daily lives spent so much time disengaged and worried and were always searching for other things. Virtual reality was a tool for many to enter a flow state.
JUMP is planning to make its first appearance in a major entertainment facility in 2021. With COVID, the opening landscape is a bit unpredictable. Jensen says that the extreme stunt experience has no safety concerns besides what already exists for virtual reality simulations.
On JUMP’s advisory board includes Miller, John Gaeta, an Academy Award-winning designer, who worked with The Matrix trilogy, Jim Shumway, a senior project manager and rigger for Cirque du Soleil, Luke Atkins, a professional skydiver and BASE pilot. Atkins is the first person ever to dive from mid-tropospheric altitude and land without a parachute. Instead, Atkins landed into a series of nets 20 stories high. Atkins did the jump and completed it even after a dummy crashed through the net, suggesting the jump would be unsafe.
As for concerns about virtual reality's affordability, which is too expensive for most people, Jensen believes virtual reality is this generation’s version of the television. He says that the industry should not be giving people virtual reality headsets, that the gap hasn’t been filled yet between educating people and building content. Like people went to see movie pictures long before televisions were ever released at home, he believes that virtual reality must show its utility to the public before virtual reality can be perceived as useful and accessible.
“You’re showing them what VR can mean for them — it is the highest amount of technology and availability you can give to people,” Jensen said.
At the end of the day, Jensen wants the public and the industry to re-imagine virtual reality as a tool for self-discovery, not merely as an entertainment experience for gamers.
“For the people that would say, ‘I would never do anything in virtual reality because I don’t play video games,’ I hope after experiencing JUMP, they will say, ‘I would’ve never guessed that a virtual reality experience would change my perspective on life,’” Jensen said.