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A Matrix Moment With The Vive

Walls without walls

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Last night I spent about 20 minutes faffing about with The Lab [Steam link] which is that collection of little VR experiences and arcadey games Valve offer you free of charge for Vive. I then proceeded to have an utterly weird, fake seeing-the-Matrix experience.

I thought I’d write it down here because it was so weird and, I suspect, something that might be related to me using the Vive at home rather than one of their enormo demo booths.

All I was doing in VR was pottering, really. I investigated the solar system, slingshotted some bowling ball things at some exploding box towers and threw some sticks for a fake dog at the foot of a mountain.

I took off the headset and went through to the bedroom to get ready for bed. It was fine for a few minutes but then I had to go to the side of the room to get something and suddenly I felt convinced I was still in VR. Like, I was inching across the room because I was expecting the virtual grid to appear at any moment and tell me that the *real* edge of the room was imminent. If I went too fast I would walk into an unseen wall or wardrobe.

It was the weirdest thing because it wasn’t a case of just becoming aware of a physical behaviour I’d had to make habit in VR and hadn’t quite shrugged off yet. It was that I *knew* – my brain was so certain – that I hadn’t left VR and that everything in front of me was suddenly in question. Like, the information from my eyesight and physical reality had necessarily got out of sync because of how VR works but the insertion of that doubt is hard to undo and so it lingered.

I actually got so disoriented that when climbing into my pyjamas I just fell over, unsure which way was up.

I’ve been thinking about why this happened now and not in any of the VR demos I’ve had to this point and I wonder if it’s to do with my home being a far smaller space. In the big demo kiosks I’ve used before you encounter those grids that tell you real world objects are near far less often. In our British study room they’re almost constant. I had to stay almost in the dead centre of the space to lose them and I think being repeatedly confronted with the idea that I was about to walk into something I couldn’t see really messed with my senses. Add in the fact that my partner walked into the play space and I bumped into him unexpectedly a couple of times and my brain probably gave up on trying to synergise what it could see with what it could feel.

I have no idea if this is of interest to other people or if it’s like having someone tell you about a very boring dream, but it’s something about VR I’d never factored in before – the weird perceptual imprints it might leave when I exit.

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Philippa Warr

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