Dear Virtual Reality,
Last month, we took the leap headlong into your world- and it was glorious.
As children of the 80s, hand reared on a diet of arcade games and cartoons, VR really is the stuff or our neon, pixelated dreams.
Back then, the possibility of entering a parallel world was strictly limited to your imagination. Whether you stuck a colander on your head and wrapped yourself in your mum’s last scraps of tin foil before popping to the Moon or got stuck in a good book- it was really down to you to create the world you wanted to exist in before dinner.
Or, if you were lucky, you could head to the cinema and nestle down in the black velvet cloak of the movie theatre, to munch on popcorn and slurp on electric blue slush puppies- willingly suspending your disbelief and diving headlong into the world of Fantasia, the Grid or Hilltop Valley.
So imagine our glee therefore, when we discovered that for just a few, glorious pounds, you could buy a device to strap to your head, click a button and…KAPOW! There you are, peacefully drifting into space via a weather balloon, then -whoosh- diving to the bottom of the ocean à la Jacques Cousteau to wrestle a giant squid; then moments later, thrust into the heart of a riot in New York, being buffeted from left to right by angry protestors. All while never leaving the comfort of your front room- AWESOME!
And the thing is, unlike going to the cinema or wearing a colander on your head, VR doesn’t require your imagination. You don’t need to imagine that you’re in New York because you actually are there. Well… not really…. but you know what I mean.
As I glide up into space, wearing what looks like a fancy lunch box strapped to my head- (so chic) peering into the inky black sky, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I can almost feel the breeze in my hair. Looking down, I actually get vertigo and my stomach flips. It’s incredible.
One drizzly afternoon, after a particularly exhilarating ride on a rollercoaster through some Mayan ruins in the year 1685, I realised that through VR, I’m suddenly compelled to engage with the mundane in a way that I never have done before. OK, so riding a rollercoaster through some Mayan ruins isn’t exactly mundane, but I have been on several roller coasters before and I work right next to the Brighton Pier- home to several rickety, hair raising theme park rides and yet, if you asked me if I fancied going on one, I’d almost definitely pass; but give me a black box to strap to my head and I’m there.
Likewise, watching Casey Neistat wash his hands after going to the loo in a Chinese restaurant isn’t exactly my idea of a wild Friday night in. Yet as I follow him out of the Gent’s and back into the throng of the restaurant to ask for the bill, I get a sudden frisson of excitement: “this is so wrong…but I like it. And, at least now I can rest easy in the fact that I know Casey is a hand washer. Phew!”
I began to wonder if this is all VR has to offer? Is it just about the ability to silently slip off into another reality, disconnecting from those around me to plunder the depths of the ocean or trek across the Sahara atop a camel? It can’t just be about watching Casey Neistat take a leak, can it?
Thankfully, due to filmmaker Chris Milk and his visionary company VRSE, the answer is no. Like us, as a child Chris used to regularly lose himself in the “virtual reality” of Evel Knievel, believing himself to be right there, riding pillion with the daredevil as he effortlessly sailed across the Grand Canyon on his splendid white Chopper.
As he got older, Milk came to understand that VR has the ability to be more than just a “video game peripheral” and subsequently began taking his 360° camera to refugee camps in Jordan to film the lives of the people living there.
Even better, Milk took the footage he captured to the UN (those with the ‘real power’ for change) to see just who their decisions- made in the lap of Swiss luxury- affected. Of course, they were deeply moved by it and so Milk and his team began making more, travelling the world to bring to life the stories of people whose stories need telling; and not just telling them, making you “live” them. He takes you to the Ebola treatment centre in Liberia, sits you down on the bed with a dying child and makes you look them square in the eyes. Short of jumping on a plane and heading over there myself, this is the next best thing. And put simply, it’s incredibly powerful.
Tron style adventures aside, it’s this aspect of VR that excites us at Wolfcub the most; using the “ultimate empathy machine”, to climb through the window of your imagination and actually exist on the other side; to get as close as one possibly can to experiencing what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes and then use that experience to create something wonderful. To help change someone’s mind about something and, hell, why not, maybe even make them a better person for it?
It’s not everyday that a piece of new, at first seemingly gimmicky technology comes around and makes us really excited (like REALLY excited). So we’d like to thank whichever unapologetic kid of the 80’s refused to let go of their dream to actualise the fantasies of us all.
Working out how to make people better humans takes time, but when we’ve cracked it we’ll give you a shout; in the meantime, I’m off dinosaur hunting, BRB.