My First VR Experience

Today I didn’t have to pay for a broken HTC Vive VR headset, and for that I am grateful. Even though I knew I was playing a game in a small area surrounded on three sides by walls, I thought running from the virtual knight was the best idea at the time and rammed into one of the walls just a few feet away.  

As a researcher of mass communications, perhaps it’s strange that I’d never used VR, but recently while pondering the next big thing in mass communications research, I realized I needed to invest some time in getting to know virtual reality. I’d read some research on it but decided I needed to try it out for myself. How was I supposed to study it after all if I didn’t know what it was like to experience it? (I guess that same vein of thought doesn’t apply to all things, but it seemed right for VR.)

Predicted to be a $44.7 billion market by 2024, virtual reality will probably soon be a part of everyday life. We probably won’t get to the level of “Ready Player One” for a while, but that doesn’t mean VR won’t have some influence on people’s lives before then. 

Here are some of my observations from my first time playing VR. (Or is it playing in VR? Playing on VR?)

Before it was my turn, I decided I’d watch my husband give it a try. It looked like he was having fun, but his body language showed he was feeling pretty calm. But then he took the headset off, and it looked like he’d been working out hard. Obviously, that was quite confusing. 

But then it was my turn. I didn’t really have many expectations. A couple weeks prior, I had downloaded the YouTube app and tried a skydiving VR video; however, since I didn’t have a headset of any sort, I just held it in front of my face while sitting under a thick blanket. So you could say this was my real first time and that my expectations were pretty low after my homemade experience. 

I strapped on the headset and tightened it. At first it was a little blurry, but just tightening it and pushing it up my nose did the trick. The first game I tried was a lightsaber game. I’m not really sure if you can fight anyone or if it’s really just a “training” game. It was basically like a tennis ball machine feeding you balls so you could practice hitting, except this was supposed to be shots from a blaster and you were holding two lightsabers in your hands. 

Interestingly, I could not find any instructions. In that way, I guess VR is like real life. In life we don’t get instructions on how to live, and in VR you don’t either. You just have to figure things out like a child, except that in VR there’s no one to model the behavior.  Bandura, what do we do now? (There’s a research study right there: Uncertainty within VR and the effects on an individual’s perception of their self-efficacy.)

After I miserably failed at that game a number of times, I moved on to what I thought I could handle: a haunted house (“Affected: The Manor“). It starts with a warning message about jump scares and flashing lights for anyone who’s light sensitive, but I told myself I love going to haunted houses. But a virtual reality haunted house is different. 

For one, at a real life haunted house, there’s something about people coming out alive and being surrounded by people you know and realizing that you’re in control of your body that makes it okay. Plus, since you already spent $25 to $50, you feel obligated to go through with the experience. 

In a VR haunted house, I felt like I didn’t have control over my surroundings at all. I didn’t know when one of these jump scares was coming, and I’d been warned, so I started psyching myself out. And no one was urging me along like they would at a real haunted house. In this virtual reality experience, I was alone. Eventually I made my way through the three turns that led to the door of the haunted mansion. 

The employee thought this was the perfect time to go “Boo!” And I screamed, obviously, lost all courage, and exited the game. I personally don’t like scary movies, so I wonder why I thought I would be able to stand being one of the characters in them essentially. 

My fear led to cognitive dissonance. Though I knew what I was experiencing wasn’t real, I still felt real fear. 

Then finally came the game where I ran into the wall. Long story short, I was trying to run from a zombie-like knight who was coming to get me. But when I realized I couldn’t run, I sliced him up with the sword I had picked up. Unfortunately there were strange flesh cutting sound effects that accompanied the slicing. 

And last, I played “To the Top” where you launch yourself off blue patches and you get sweaty and sometimes dizzy in the process. I even got nervous once when I looked down from the orb I was holding onto and saw how far I would “fall” if I let go. 

VR really does mess with your perception of space. But it also messes with time. 

Though I played for 30 minutes, the immersive quality made it feel like it was maybe 10 minutes in total. Perhaps the newness of it was part of that, but there’s something about the transporting quality of VR and the active participation that I swear affects your sense of time. I guess it’s similar to getting lost in a good book. I’m sure there’s a theory out there somewhere to explain my experience. 

Overall, I’d give my VR experience a 10/10. Perhaps I’m still reeling from the adrenaline, but I really did enjoy exploring a new world. Now, I can’t wait to see what positive things people do with VR. 

My money idea is to explore if mindfulness or yoga or relaxation-type VR videos/games/experiences can decrease an individual’s anxiety compared to an in-person experience. If it does, that might be something to explore for people who’s anxiety makes it a struggle to even leave the house.

 



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