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My First Taste of VR Since the 90s

Today I got my first taste of virtual reality since I first experienced it back in 1996. My first VR experience took place at the SIGGRAPH conference in New Orleans in the summer of 1996.
I took part in three VR demonstrations. One was touted as a therapeutic aid for people who are afraid of heights. I stood on a small wooden platform that had a length of rope suspended between to posts. When I put on the VR headset, I found myself standing on a narrow foot bridge over a canyon. The person supervising the demo had me reach out and take hold of the length of rope, which complemented the illusion of standing on a small bridge with rope handholds. I couldn't move in the simulation. I could only look around and, most importantly for this exercise, look down into the simulated canyon.

One of the other SIGGRAPH virtual reality experiences put a lightsaber in my hand, and I blocked shots from the practice drone that Luke Skywalker sparred with on the Millenium Falcon in the original Star Wars movie. I couldn't move much, and the scene was probably simpler than I remember it being. I just remember being on the Millenium Falcon.

Today, I stopped by the local community access TV station. I do freelance videography for them, so I stop in most days to pick up or drop off equipment. Sometimes I use their facilities to shoot my YouTube videos. Today, I was just stopping in to pick up a coat that I had left there rather than stuffing it into a locker at the gym, which is just down the hall from the station.

I heard noises which indicated that there was some video game action about to commence in the actual studio (as opposed to the office of the TV station). As soon as I stepped into the studio, which was mostly dark except for some deep purple/red lighting and the glow of an absurdly large flatscreen TV, Colin, who works there, asked me if I wanted to play a Star Wars VR game.

"Fuck yeah, I do," I answered before I realized that I was in a room full of cameras and that one or more of them were likely turned on and recording the encounter.

As I walked into the middle of the studio I saw that there was an AT-AT (AKA an imperial walker) walking back and forth across a blank white void with a mouse droid rolling around at the walker's feet managing not to get squashed by those enormous metal feet. I could only see the walker's feet and legs, not it's body or head.

I sat in a swiveling chair in front of the giant monitor and Colin instructed me in putting on and adjusting the Sony Playstation VR headset and headphones. Once I had them on, Brian, who was operating a camera behind me, said, "KMO, look up."

I looked up with my eyes first, but in doing so, I moved my head a little bit in the same direction, and as it did, my view changed in a way that doesn't happen when playing a game that is confined to what you can see through the window of a TV or computer monitor. I moved my head more and found myself looking up into the underside of the walker. I was in a virtual world, as if I had stepped through the screen or been digitized by the Master Control Program and reassembled in software on the game grid.

(More tomorrow)


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