I thought I was the chief when I was growing up. There wasn’t a horror movie I couldn’t stomach and anybody that didn’t watch them because they thought horror films were too scary were just wusses to me.
Now, I don’t know whether it’s down to the realisation of how fragile the human condition is as I get older or whether I’m losing my minerals, but there’s been a few VR experiences recently that have gotten the best of me. I’ve draped the duvet of wuss-hood upon me. What’s struck me the most about it all has been how powerful VR is as a medium. It’s something I’ll be going into in more detail in another piece but for now I just wanted to share where I’ve been over the last week or so.
Richie’s Plank Experience should have been a straightforward, fun, lark. The graphics are functional, not mind-blowing. The concept is simple. Take an elevator up to the top floor of a skyscraper whereupon the doors open and the only thing to step out onto is a small plank. Some architect’s idea of a joke. So the “game” is to see how far you can venture out onto the plank. A friend, who introduced me to the experience advised me that I could actually fall off the plank. It was this piece of information that did the trick. It made the threat real. I know I was perfectly safe but my brain was being presented with audio visual information that added up to a life-threatening situation. I couldn’t take another step forward for fear I’d slip off and fall hundreds of feet to the pavement. All the while a voice in my head was reminding me it was all just a simulation and I was safe. But my brain thought otherwise – I still didn’t move. I had to close my eyes and move from the elevator to the plank, and I opened them in just enough time to see myself fall to the ground. It took a while. After I hit the ground – of course I was fine – I relaxed, laughed and realised I had fun. The fear was part of it.
I came across this vid from the great Jacksepticeye that pretty much nails my experience.
The next experiences I had were in a great app on the Samsung Gear VR called Face Your Fears, by Turtle Rock Studios. It’s such a well put together app and is great for sharing in a group just for the craic. You start off in a kind of lobby from the Twilight Zone, where you choose your “test”. There’s a chapter that concentrates on the fear of heights – you end up balancing from a radio pole on a skyscraper (me and skyscrapers it turns out, don’t mix). Another presents you with a little portmanteau of ghost experiences – fucking terrifying. The newest one is about spiders. I never considered myself an arachnophobe but this thing made me into one. For me, it’s been the one that’s challenged me the most.
Inspired by the finale of the movie Arachnophobia, you’re alone in a cellar, head on a swivel, keeping track of the ominously sized spiders. The crew at Turtle Rock have done a great job, from sound design, to textures, to crafting a narrative and building tension.
As with Richie’s Plank Experience, my brain was at odds with my reasoning. It was scary but it was a twisted kind of fun as well. As I reflected on the VR nightmares I just had I realised how potent VR is. In a way that no other medium can come near. With VR, you embody a protagonist, you’re placed within the environment. And because of that, you have skin in the game; you care if a horde of spiders are coming up behind you, you care if you fall off a tall building.
I think I’ll stick a rom-com on…