I tried a VR headset for the first time the other day. It was ‘just’ a Gear VR, and the scenes I was shown (by Keith, whose it was) weren’t even especially dramatic; the first was a pano shot outside the LCC. And I could totally see the pixels of the screen a few centimetres from my eyes. And I was aware there was dust and hairs on the lenses, which of course stayed in the same place no matter where I pointed my head. And yet.
Within five, ten seconds, the real world had dissolved almost completely away. Keith, in meatspace, said something and I turned to reply, and was hit with a quietly vertiginous feeling when of course he wasn’t there in my field of view. He then loaded a virtual art gallery, and again, that vertiginous feeling as I turned, saw a doorway, and started to walk towards it. I didn’t actually even take a step, but I’m completely sure, had I been strapped to monitors, that you would have seen subvocalisation-style indicators – a muscle twitch here, a slight inclination there as my body prepared to shift its weight – that I had for a split second started the process of propelling myself towards the completely fictional doorway.
In other words: I was struck – really quite viscerally struck – that while simultaneously I had all the usual cues that told me I was using a computer, and that I was looking at something not real, something about the fluidity of the head tracking and the particular gullibility of the mind when it comes to this kind of simulation made me override those instantly. It was a strange experience, and one that made me think: if this is what VR looks like now – now when you can see the edges and when you can’t move and when what I tried is still pretty low-end and niche – and yet even in this comparatively nascent state it can remove you so convincingly from the real world, then by all the gods VR is going to be deeply seductive by the time my six month-old daughter is grown up.