Ear­li­er this year, Tim and I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to try vir­tu­al real­i­ty at the True/False Film Fes­ti­val in a dark, cur­tained side room of a com­man­deered Colum­bia art gallery, but we were both much too intox­i­cat­ed and loopy those last few hours of the fest, and we bailed. Call us cow­ards if you must - immer­sion can be a scary con­cept to those of us who grew up read­ing sci­ence fic­tion, before the exis­tence of the mod­ern video game con­sole. I’ve want­ed just 30 sec­onds or so with a pair of gog­gles, just to have an idea of what the increas­ing num­ber of Ocu­lus-blind­­ed pedes­tri­ans sur­round­ing me are look­ing at. Thanks to Isi­ah, I was final­ly caught up last night with a few VR YouTube videos and Far­point’s intro­duc­tion on a PlaySta­tion 4.
First, Isi­ah brings me the head­set and describes in detail how exact­ly to adjust it, but I for­get it all and sim­ply try to shove it direct­ly and vio­lent­ly on my face. Even­tu­al­ly, he takes it back and sim­ply mounts and adjusts it around my mon­strous skull - like you would for a tod­dler - and I lay eyes on the con­sole for the first time. For what­ev­er rea­son, it nev­er occurred to me that gen­er­al GUI wouldn’t sim­ply be dis­played in 2D, but by a lit­er­al vir­tu­al dis­play, layed out in front of me like a large, floor-moun­t­ed touch work­sta­tion. I’m aston­ished by my abil­i­ty to turn away from it to look at the rest of Gog­gle­world, which is noth­ing but a deeply black void.
 
From my pre­vi­ous world, I hear Isi­ah and Hawthorn dis­cussing what to show me first, and YouTube is the set­­tled-upon envi­ron­ment. As the appli­ca­tion is restart­ed in VR Mode,” its start­up screen is what real­ly estab­lish­es the truth I have gone vir­tu­al. I can­not use my hands to shield my eyes from the branding’s glar­ing water­mark and ter­ri­fy­ing red light. At its home menu, Isi­ah sim­ply selects the VR” tab, reveal­ing a selec­tion of thumb­nails for algo­­rith­mi­­cal­­ly-rec­om­­mend­ed VR-shot videos on the service.
 
To begin, I am mount­ed on the tail of a super­bike as it’s raced around an Amer­i­can desert cir­cuit. It takes a few sec­onds for high res­o­lu­tion to buffer, leav­ing me briefly in a pix­elized hell that would sure­ly make any­one sick, were they exposed very long. (I was espe­cial­ly excit­ed to become nau­seous, to no avail.) At the get­go, I am occu­pied with the rider’s butt since it’s cen­ter-frame if I stand in my usu­al pos­ture. Isi­ah points out the hov­er­ing HUD to my left con­tain­ing a selec­tion of sim­u­lat­ed dig­i­tal instru­ments (tachome­ter, 7-seg­­ment speedo, etc.) Its pres­ence would sug­gest that the pur­pose of my vir­tu­al pas­sen­ger­ship is to wit­ness the lap as a motor­sport enthu­si­ast, but the rear of the rid­er obscures most of my view for­ward I can­not admire his line as one would view­ing a GoPro-or-oth­­er­­wise POV of the same event, so I decide to try and fig­ure out which track I am hur­ried through. Though the vehi­cle is tossed about in the required move­ments of motor­bike oper­a­tion, I myself (the VR cap­ture device) am impres­sive­ly gyrosta­bi­lized, and the image, sta­t­ic, as if I’m actu­al­ly hov­er­ing above the pair as they moved along. I spin left and right, spot­ting a small gag­gle of minia­ture wind tur­bines and two wilt­ing hill­top trees in the fore­ground. Behind them, small sand dunes fill the space, all the way to the horizon.
 
After a few min­utes, I am final­ly relieved ear­ly of my cut­less lap for a short Nation­al Geo­graph­ic doc­u­men­tary on a Viking revival fes­ti­val in Poland. I’m intro­duced to its Big Boys by a series of aer­i­al shots (pre­sum­ably by drone, which is awful­ly un-Viking­­like) as they row their Big Boat up(?) a rel­a­tive­ly wide, tree-lined riv­er. In con­trast with the lap, the jump cuts become a bit dis­ori­ent­ing I am even­tu­al­ly jumped in the boat for a moment, next to the sweaty, beard­ed lads a few of whom are shirt­less. I notice a blur­ry church on the dis­tant bank. Sud­den­ly, I float briskly across the small no man’s land between two rapid­ly advanc­ing bat­tle lines of Nordic Nerds with real, era-spe­­cif­ic weapons and way too much free time. More lin­ger­ing drone shots fol­low from just a few feet above the ensu­ing con­flict. Out­side, Isi­ah con­firms Hawthorn’s sug­ges­tion that this is, indeed, the one where they use real weapons as I notice a pile of three or four men lying against each oth­er, motion­less on the ground, right-of-cen­ter in the near­est line, and mull over the sure dis­tur­bance of all this immer­sion the fes­ti­val has allowed in wel­com­ing the pres­ence of the sure­­ly-buzzing drone. I guess they’re dead.
 
After the con­flict, I am sub­ject­ed to a dreami­er, nar­rat­ed mon­tage accom­pa­nied by cheesy syn­the­sized orches­tral music and fea­tur­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly a par­tic­u­lar man with a shiny, tat­ted bald head and rather large feet with rather small toes, which he likes to wig­gle dur­ing these par­tic­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions. Thanks to VR’s omnien­com­pass­ing per­spec­tive, I am allowed to observe his wig­gling in his every appear­ance. The tone of the back­ground music and the preva­lence of relaxed, con­vers­ing cou­ples and sun­sets in the scenes sug­gest roman­ti­cism is the montage’s theme, but for me, it is the bald man’s feet I am too busy con­vers­ing with my two friends, across the divide, in this world, to lis­ten to any of what is said. Con­sid­er­ing that YouTube col­lects the dimen­sion­al data regard­ing where the user looks, and for how long, I make an effort to bend my neck up and down in extremes, and notice a patch of washed-out sky, dis­tort­ing in the dis­tance, and pon­der what if any­thing we have gained in this technology.
 
Does an increase in the raw amount of visu­al data avail­able to the view­er actu­al­ly make motion pic­ture sto­ry­telling more effec­tive? In the few min­utes of my VR taste test, I did gain quite a bit of voli­tion over an equiv­a­lent 2D expe­ri­ence, but it didn’t seem like I’d instinc­tive­ly used it to gain much else. If one is specif­i­cal­ly inter­est­ed in the shrub­bery around a race­track, or the more nuanced undu­la­tions of a Viking’s foot, they can more like­ly than not find a stan­dard video on the World Wide Web that would more effi­cient­ly enter­tain them. In spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tions, of course, a pro­duc­er can undoubt­ed­ly ben­e­fit by the abil­i­ty to cap­ture in 360 degrees, but in any sort of cin­e­ma, espe­cial­ly it seems unnec­es­sar­i­ly sac­ri­fi­cial to relin­quish entire­ly the nar­ra­tive direc­to­r­i­al con­trol of shot fram­ing to their audi­ence. How­ev­er, I am the anti­ex­pert on this sub­ject, obvi­ous­ly. My take on the via­bil­i­ty of VR is Vir­tu­al­ly Redun­dant and quite pos­si­bly very wrong, but my time in its hell is not over yet.
 
Isi­ah explains that it is time for me to game, and asks if I’d like to try the one with the hands, or the one with the gun.” As always, I choose the firearm, as the hands” have not been found yet and the hypo­thet­i­cal image imme­di­ate­ly offered up by my imag­i­na­tion is of rusty iron shack­les. The Infi­nite Black­ness has returned, and I can­not see beyond it to deter­mine what my host is up to. Then, it becomes out­er space fill­ing with thou­sands of star­like white dots. The light-blue out­line of a vir­tu­al PlaySta­tion con­troller appears where I assume him to be, unat­tached and bum­bling about. Soon, it jagged­ly approach­es, and I feel him hand it to me. We have start­ed its cal­i­bra­tion process, which becomes a bit fright­en­ing in my celes­tial sur­round­ings, though at least I have now gained par­tic­i­pa­to­ry pow­er over my new exis­tence. I’d opt­ed out of wear­ing head­phones, so the assistant’s malig­­nant-sound­ing female British voice comes soft­ly from the tele­vi­sion some­where in front of me as I point the beam of light the controller’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion is now pro­ject­ing straight for­ward at the nav­i­ga­tion­al arrows dis­played ahead and pull the trig­ger” (R2.)
 
I am pleased by the idea of inter­fac­ing with soft­ware exclu­sive­ly by shoot­ing it repeat­ed­ly before I am abrupt­ly con­tained in a cage, now being pro­ject­ed by a vir­tu­al­iza­tion of the system’s sen­sor, which is unset­tling. I am now cal­i­brat­ing the hard­ware con­tained with­in the phys­i­cal device that cap­tures the posi­tion of my body in the phys­i­cal world. I catch the word con­fine­ment” in the assistant’s unend­ing, oth­­er­­wise-inaudi­ble direc­tions, and quick­en my pace. When it’s all done, I return the con­troller to Isi­ah, who reboots the PS4, itself, before launch­ing Far­point. My space becomes a lighter blue and fills with lit­tle opaque bits of Sony Dust for a minute or two. Isi­ah con­tin­ues his rum­mag­ing for anoth­er periph­er­al as the title’s intro­duc­tion begins to play.
 
Two rather poor­­ly-ani­­mat­ed astro­nauts are co-host­ing a live broad­cast from their craft, which is pre­sent­ed in a drama­ti­za­tion of a com­put­er dis­play. They’ve just met, but they’re both stacked with acad­e­mia, co-mas­sag­ing their knowl­edge, which I choose not to lis­ten to. Out of view, Isi­ah unsuc­cess­ful­ly attempts to skip the whole thing before I’m allowed to become vir­tu­al again this time, atop the ani­mat­ed body of anoth­er astro­naut in a lone shut­tle, approach­ing the moth­er­ship where it holds, next to a large, very-Star Trek anom­aly.” From Deep Space Nine, the two sci­en­tists con­tin­ue to bick­er over comms as I look around the cock­pit. Look­ing back­wards has already become a favorite habit of mine I won­der where the shuttle’s bath­room is. For what­ev­er rea­son, the back of my character’s neck was ani­mat­ed, though it can only be seen by look­ing rear­wards and down, which dis­torts its shape into some­thing tru­ly terrifying.
 
A bunch of unre­lat­ed plot fol­lows, lead­ing me to end up on a for­eign world, exit­ing my crashed escape pod. By now, Isi­ah has con­nect­ed The Gun, but some­thing about it isn’t quite right my char­ac­ter holds it in a glitched, very uncom­­fort­able-look­ing man­ner, and it’s sus­pect­ed that a fix would require a restart, and there­fore a replay of the intro­duc­to­ry cutscene so I retire out of lack of patience.
 
If I were con­fi­dent­ly review­ing PlaySta­tion VR as a con­sumer pur­chase, I’d cite a quote of Isiah’s: I couldn’t find the thing.” In addi­tion to my first drone sight­ing, a few days ago in Col­orado, this lost vir­tu­al vir­gin­i­ty is not nec­es­sar­i­ly unwel­come I feel as though I’ve acquired a plat­form to bet­ter pon­der the dystopia to which these and their like indus­tries add a cer­tain com­ic spice. That said, I can­not imag­ine a rea­son to once again enter the dig­i­tal realm and who cares?
 
Please enjoy your new worlds, kids.
Edi­­tor-in-Chief
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