Thoughts on ten minutes with a virtual reality

I remember watching the opening cutscene to Halo ODST on my stepbrother’s Xbox. I had never been a huge fan of the series and indeed this was during a period of time during which I had been forbidden to touch the thing. I think they were out. The game starts in spaceship as half of the cast of Firefly stand around trading quips preparing for a mission. Your character awakes and, now presented in first person, is pushed into one of the chairs lining the wall. A door closes and you are shot downwards, towards the ground. Halfway down you are knocked off course and start spinning wildly towards the ground.

There was nothing in my brief demo of PlayStation VR that felt as thrilling as that sequence. It’s not like I’m happy about it. Three years this has been coming. Three years of people being transformed, emerging from demo booths in tears. Those funny gifs of people in mall food courts falling over because they were so immersed. It just left me cold. It’s like when a magician does a trick you know how to perform, it’s great, and they’re doing it far better than you ever could but there’s no surprise there. There’s no joy; no grand ultimate moment of transcendence in which, for a moment, the impossible is.

There’s just you. I guess that’s all there’s supposed to be however the paradox remains, the harder we try to expel our minds from reality the more barriers we raise between ourselves and experience. I don’t mean to sound like the grandparent trying to urge the recalcitrant youngsters out of the house. Hell, most of my free time is spent in cinemas. This isn’t about the real world, but about how we interface with it. I felt alienated from the suggested reality. There are games out there that create reality far more efficiently and effectively than these because they allow reality to flow from the inside out, the brain through the body. The Beginner’s Guide, The Jejune Institute, even Disneyland is a better VR experience than this.

Even worse the magician’s not doing the job too well, maybe it’s just the things I played, the edges are all too visible. It’s early days but the level of flimsiness is way out and crack upon crack upon crack until the faced falls away. There was neither need nor urgency nor vibrancy and the wizard could be seen putting the balls under the cups.

Before I was starting the demo I asked if I should put my hair down. I’m not sure the dude had been asked that question before. ‘I guess, probably, I mean, it’s gonna get caught anyway.’ There are so many people who VR is not for: the poor, the disabled, the visually or mentally impaired. I add myself to a list that I am certainly not alone in, though by choice rather than circumstance. Microsoft are releasing a budget headset soon, and the crashing of the future gets louder. I hope this isn’t it, it’s not ready yet.

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