Entering the Virtual World


My youngest son enters the virtual world under the tutelage of my oldest son (in background).

I spent the weekend in a virtual world. Well, okay, it was just a few hours this weekend, but it was a cool few hours. My oldest son, who is a computer science graduate student, used his tax refund money to buy an HTC Vive. He treated me and my youngest son to a demonstration of this virtual reality system at his house.

The easiest way to describe it is to say it’s like stepping inside a video game. You put on the virtual reality goggles and **bam** you’re in another place.

Now, I am a mom, so I think of safety-related messages like these: Be sure to only try virtual reality with people you trust. You can hear the people around you, but you can’t see them once you put the goggles on. Others in the room could easily trip you if they are the mischievous sort, and you’d never see it coming. Likewise, remove all pets from the area that could wander into your virtual space and make you fall flat on your face.

I tried several demos from a program called “The Lab.” I entered a cave, complete with dripping water and piles of snow. Using one of the hand controllers, I found I had the ability to blow up balloons, which quickly rose to the cave’s ceiling and popped. It might not sound that exciting, but when you’re surrounded by the world, and you see the balloons you create actually rise like real balloons, it’s pretty darn cool. Then I was off to a secret shop that felt like a wizard’s lair come to life.

When it was my youngest son’s turn, he started out at Vesper Peak, throwing sticks on a mountain top for his slinky robot dog companion. He also tried Longbow, which had him defending his fort with a bow and arrow against rabid gingerbread men-like raiders. He also got to try his hand at being a line cook in one of the job-related games.

I am a real-world nature-lover, so my knee-jerk reaction to virtual reality games is negative. But after trying it, I can see how it’s certainly better than watching television because it gets you up and moving. Also, I can see how it can be a powerful storytelling tool because it immerses you in the experience more fully than a flat screen ever could.

In short, the virtual world’s not so bad. It might even be useful.