A Matrix Moment With The Vive

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.


  1. Holden McGroin says:

    True self is without form.

  2. Severn2j says:

    I’d say it was more of an Inception moment, than a Matrix one.. Maybe you should get one of those little spinning top things, just to make sure you’re in the real world.

  3. hjd_uk says:

    congratulations! You have now experienced an existential dissociation from reality. I think its technically called schizophrenia :)

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      I dont think it has nothing to do with that.
      Its more like tetris effect, like after playing skyrim for hours you try to fast travel somewhere before remembering that its real life (google it).
      People experience tetris effect frequently already, its not strange that same thing would happen in VR.

      • syndrome says:

        A couple of years ago, I had this situation where I couldn’t shake off that GTA-esque instinct: “slap that guy off a bike and proceed to destination”. Some kind of weird autosolipsism.

        My brain was processing the surroundings as if it was this game I exposed myself to (at least for a brief interval), the scenery was uncanny, even the sounds were spot on.

        My guess is that I probably fell asleep when I played GTA the night before, so there is quite possibly some sort of reality-to-dream transitive brain activity that lingered. Something that affects our clues and cues on what’s actually going on.

        Something akin to lucid dreaming perhaps?

        • Sir_Deimos says:

          When 3rd person games with “realistic” (for the time) graphics started coming out, I struggled with having to turn around for a while. I think it was right after the original Assassin’s Creed that for a couple of weeks every time I tried to back out of a parking spot, I tried to “swivel the camera” to look behind me instead of actually turning my head. Thankfully no accidents happened :)

      • MeisterKleister says:

        Exactly what I was thinking! I used to savescum a lot in games, especially in the very first Max Payne game. I remember while painting during art class I kept thinking, “I should probably save the game now before I mess something up”.

  4. treat says:

    The 5 or 10 minutes after taking off the headset is a weird, sort of uncomfortable thing. I’ve noticed that it leaves me feeling drained, mentally exhausted. I fully expect to be able to phase through walls and furniture. It definitely leaves a lingering sense of altered perception but I can’t tell if it’s something that will lessen or become exacerbated after becoming well acclimated to spending more and more time in VR.

    • Steed says:

      Interesting… I can spend hours in VR and feel compleatly normal when I take the headset off. No weirdness with perception despite total immersion.

      However, I have seen, briefly, chaperone bounds when I first wake up (my bed forms one edge of my play space) and on one occasion certain words protruded in 3d from my flat monitor.

    • AlexStoic says:

      I’ve had the Vive now for two weeks and can report similar things. The first few days I had batshit insane dreams where I was convinced I was seeing crazy things because I was in VR. I also (during normal waking hours) had the impulse to teleport around the room and just like Philippa there was one morning where my brain kept telling me to slow down so I didn’t run into invisible walls. Lastly, I’ve had the experience on looking at 2D things (like my computer monitor during work) and feeling like there was a lot of 3D depth there.

      These have all gone away after a couple days. I expect that it’s just a normal brain function of adaption: “Oh, we move by teleporting now? Ok, guess I better get used to that.” but VR makes it more believable, especially after long play sessions. It’s not that different from when I would draw for work all day long and then try to ctrl-z in real life, or when I would create models all day and dream in wireframe.

      I’m not too worried about the long-term effects. Your brain can adapt both ways.

      • Xigageshi says:

        I’m glad to be warned to look out for this when my Vive arrives, but mostly I just wanted to confess that a significant factor in my purchase of a Surface Pro was how often I’d want to ctrl+z a line in a ‘real’ drawing. :)

  5. JJRPIII says:

    I’ve had similar experiences even without VR.

    For instance, years of Hitman games have left me unable to see someone pissing against a wall without creeping up on them and strangling them with piano wire.

    It’s second nature, don’t even realise I’m doing it.

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      Earl-Grey says:

      So great to hear I’m not the only one.
      I’ve lost track of how many cars I’ve hijacked just to get to work in the morning.

      • spindaden says:

        But really though.

        My first experience of this was after long unreal tournament 99 session way back when, i went outside and was amazed at how realistic the real sky was.

        Years later i went out late at night after playing L4D and when walking along a deserted road in the dark i heard, really heard, the klaxon sound of the incoming horde of zombies.

        I guess the immersion here is in the tool rather than the game itself, but it’s all the same deal right?

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          phuzz says:

          You know those real-life zombie games they have? One of the first ones was in Bristol, and parts of it were in the public streets.
          I didn’t know any of this though, I was just walking back home late at night, wondering why the small group of people in front of me were acting so suspiciously when they turned a corner in front of me, screamed and all ran back the other way. I reached the corner to come face to face with a zombie and my first instinct was to kill it.
          Fortunately I wasn’t armed and in the half second it took me to look around for a weapon I realised that this was just a game, and it was a person dressed as a zombie.
          Still, he was bloody lucky that it wasn’t somewhere like the US where people habitually carry guns around, because I’m not sure I could have stopped my finely honed L4D instincts from going for a headshot.

          On a related note, I remember some fo the advertising for the first Gran Turismo which warned you not to drive immediately after playing, and I can confirm that it took some effort not to just stamp my foot on the accelerator.

          • jon_hill987 says:

            I have been walking along the canal path in the summer and seen thistles and lavender which I wanted to pick for their alchemical properties (resist frost/ resist magic respectively). I had been playing a lot of Skyrim and had the soundtrack on at the time. Also, I sure started feeling nervous when the dragon battle music came on during that walk.

            “I remember the advertising for the first Gran Turismo which warned you not to drive immediately after playing, and I can confirm that it took some effort not to just stamp my foot on the accelerator”

            This can be true when swapping vehicles in real life as well though.

          • Otterley says:


            Vehicle swapping – I do a lot of that after GTA sessions, too.

    • Otterley says:

      Yeah, but Philippa’s speaking about unpleasant side-effects.

  6. frightlever says:

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

    I have had EXACTLY this experience after using VR. No, wait… alcohol, after using alcohol!

  7. SpinalJack says:

    I had this feeling after playing budget cuts. When I took the headset off and had to walk across the room I was thinking why can’t I teleport over there? It’d be much faster.

  8. Agnosticus says:

    It’s very interesting to see how differently people are perceive VR. I’ve had the Vive headset on for an hour straight and didn’t feel as immersed as many people like Phillippa.

    It’s probably because my brain can’t get rid of the screen-door effect, thus I’m always aware of being in VR.

    Plus I was often talking to the people in “the outside world”, which could be a factor too.

    • seroto9 says:

      It’s interesting that you mention the screen-door effect: after a 4-hour session in Elite last week, I was getting SDE after I took the headset OFF.

      I guess it was related to that thing I can’t be bothered to Google: where your brain tunes-out constant background or visual noise.

      • beekay says:

        Yeah, your brain would have tuned out the lines, and those lines would have become areas of excessive brightness/intensity after you came back to the non-screen-doored world.

    • CandidAstrius says:

      I’m really good at tuning out the SDE, and i think it comes from wearing glasses most of my life, in dusty environments there’s ALWAYS ‘stuff’ in my vision, and after a while, it just get tuned out, to that point that my wife will snatch the glasses off my face to clean them for me. I only notice it for as long as it takes to start interacting with the game, after that i ‘might’ notice it again if there’s a particularly long break in action.

  9. GWOP says:

    I remember someone (maybe it was Keza McDonald?) saying that when she put on a VR headset and looked down to see her virtual self didn’t have any legs, her actual legs suddenly gave away.

  10. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Fascinating. So this basically because I’m really life we are only ‘feeling’ our way around using a very random and disparate set of sense inputs. You don’t think about it because you’re used to it but I guess the Vine use has overlayed another similar, but importantly different, way of feeling your way around and it’s caused a bit of discombobulation. Cool!

  11. Tinotoin says:

    Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase “Form is emptiness.”

  12. TomxJ says:

    Sometimes I try and open my flat with my oystercard and usually put the margerine in the dishwasher.

    Climbing into pyjamas? The struggle is real.

    Life is weird.

  13. aircool says:

    South Park: Grounded Vindaloop

  14. PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

    .. And when I woke up there were 10 empty cans of Ace rattling around the bottom of the bed. The’z one forteh-nine.

  15. Zantium says:

    I’ve had similar with the DK2 (can’t afford either of the others yet). So it’s not really the Vive chaperon system.

    Your brain isn’t equipped for handling two different realities, since you were born it’s only had to deal with one. Autonomic functions in the brain operate largely on a subconscious level and so knowing you’ve taken the headset off and “it’s was just a game” isn’t much use as they’re not really listening to your consciousness.

    It’s probably exacerbated by the fact you were winding down to go to bed, your mid-brain was probably starting to take over from the frontal lobes in readiness for dreaming. Most people have had dreams before that especially if woken in the middle, feel very real. This state is the closest your brain has to VR, but unusually it’s being experience by the frontal lobes instead.

    What you’ve experienced, while disconcerting until your brain decides it’s got a good handle on this new reality, is also the single biggest indicator of the potential of VR.

  16. Cerzi says:

    My favourite is using Leap Motion with VR, doing something like the blocks demo (link to developer.leapmotion.com). Using my hands to interact with anything in the real world feels very surreal for a good while afterwards.

  17. jon_hill987 says:

    “Why do my eyes hurt?” “you’ve never used them before” come to think of it, Neo adapts very quickly considering what a few minutes in VR will do…

  18. MrBehemoth says:

    There’s a thing call Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) that’s been discussed for a while, and I’ve experienced it a few times myself.

    For example, after immersing in Half-Life 2 when it was new and the physics engine was innovative and exciting, I found myself momentarily convinced, on multiple occasions, that I could attract objects from across the room, as if I had an invisible gravity gun. I would be jarred for a second while trying to understand why I couldn’t just grab it. GTP especially affects my dreams – some times I dream in 2D, sometimes my dreams have a point-n-click interface. I remember having a dream long ago that was vividly rendered in the Doom engine.

    I think with the advent of VR, this sort of thing is going to become more common (and more vivid) for a while. And due to the genuinely-appropriate-use-of-the-word immersive nature of VR, it is going to mess with our heads. Children are going to grow up with it though, and when it has properly caught on in a generation or two, switching realities will be second nature to them.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      “I found myself momentarily convinced, on multiple occasions, that I could attract objects from across the room, as if I had an invisible gravity gun.”

      I found myself trying to open a wooden shipping crate by hitting it with a crowbar.

      • MrBehemoth says:

        I found myself stuck on a ladder for three days.

      • Slaadfax says:

        I was convinced on a few occasions that I could slow down or reverse the flow of time (Braid).

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          particlese says:

          I haven’t a clue when it comes to lucid dreaming, but occasionally my brain will decide to rewind a dream which has gone south, and then prevent whatever went wrong or at least do things differently. Sometimes “do things differently” means changing the dream to something completely unrelated, but the effect is still “hooray, all better”. The feeling is quite Braid-esque when it happens, and it’s a bit more cooperative than real life usually is. :)

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      More popular term for that is “Tetris Effect”
      But no, I dont think its a problem for future children, atleast when their cognition is not rabidly developing. I experienced the tetris effect often as a kid and it never really bothered me.

    • DrZhark says:

      I had that issue while playing the original X-Com game, Many times I caught myself wondering if I had enough time units to perform an action in real life… enough time units to open the door? or go to the bathroom? It was kinda scary.

  19. aeolian145 says:

    Not VR, but I’ve definitely had the odd experience after playing too much Sims (2? 3?) that there was a plumbob above my head. Disconcerting, to say the least…

  20. Rifugio says:

    This has been of some concern to me. In another career I worked as a Human Factors/Experimental Psychologist and was involved in VR/HMD/Stereoscopic research. I am not surprised by your comments as your vision has a very strong impact into how your brain interprets your environment and can cause dissonance including confusing your vestibular system.

    Unfortunately I am out of that loop now so cannot reference any recent research that has been done into possible short/long term consequences of the current generation of VR appliances.

    There are several classic CONTROLLED Psychological Experiments which have show how powerful these visual effects can be including the rapid (but patchy) adaption people have to googles which turn your vision upside down.

    Without going back to the original literature to give you an example of the power of the visual system (and the effects of spoofing it) see link to theguardian.com

    20 minutes does not seem such a long time to spend to generate such effects – but I also remember feeling very very ill after around 15 – 20 minutes of wearing a device designed to investigate introducing a very small amount of lag in a real world display. That sick feeling is one of the reasons I am not an early VR adopter.

    I am not a doctor but If you experience disturbing side effects (including migraines, nausea etc.) I’d definitely quit using VR without some sort of medical advice/checkup.

    Out of interest are there any sort of advisory warnings associated with the equipment?

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      particlese says:

      You betcha! PC Gamer points out a few of the major and fun-to-misconstrue points from the full-fat “best practices” guide. But on the consumer side, at least just before the consumer release of the Oculus Rift, their driver forces a warning onto the display for 5-ish seconds; longer if you don’t press any buttons. It’s a bit like the Wii’s “please use the controller straps and beware of epileptic triggers” warning, I think, but applied to VR. (Note that you could disable it via a registry hack if you were a dev at one point, but I don’t know how it currently works. My guess is “the same”.) As for SteamVR, I don’t remember reading much other than “please remove all obstacles (including pets) from the play area” (paraphrased), but there was something EULA-esque I skipped over (after some mandatory scrolling) which probably contained the relevant precautionary info from HTC and/or Valve. Of course, EULA-ignoring is a potentially hazardous adaptation in itself!

      Also, at least one game has issued me a custom warning, and it was essentially an abridged version of the expected stuff, if I remember correctly, and preceded by a “lawyers made us do it” clause. Sorry I don’t have exact text for ya, but rest assured that there are many warnings available and displayed about long-session, underage, and otherwise inappropriate use! You can’t force ’em directly into consumers’ brains yet — much as some of them might need it — but they’re there.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        Whoops, looks like that’s an old article. Should give you a good idea of the stuff they warn about, though.

        • Rifugio says:

          Thank you for the additional information. This is a brave new frontier, which could benefit from additional research. It’s also surprising just how differently VR can affect people.

          What is clear to me is that the experience is very compelling and gives game designers additional scope to “play” with our perception on an increasingly deeper level. I think care should be taken with this especially with moves to shock and disorientate which is especially popular amongst the horror genre.

          Fortunately our brains are surprisingly resilient and fantastically adaptive. That said we are still sporting the same base Mark 1 model which nay not have changed very much over the last few hundred thousand years.

  21. pfm says:

    You have just proved this:
    link to en.wikipedia.org

  22. katheb says:

    Shadowrun is happening man! It’s happening.

    Sounds similar to Simsense Vertigo negative quality in Shadowrun Tabletop.

  23. onionman says:

    So my Ph.D. dissertation is in Buddhist philosophy, specifically the question of perception, and part of that has involved diving into cognitive science type stuff.

    One of the takeaways here is that we’re pretty sure that we only have a single perceptual-cognitive apparatus that covers everything–“real” life (more on this in a second), dreams, hallucinations, VR, etc. Dreams are vivid because they produce the exact same kind of sensory-cognitive mental images that physical stimuli do.

    Also, the Buddhist model of perception is basically that all you ever really “see” are those mental images. And ultimately there is no “real” world out there, because your karma (technically your vāsanā, the subconscious habitual tendencies you’ve inherited from infinite lifetimes ago) interacts with that of everyone else to produce this very Matrix-y kind of collective hallucination. The point being that the difference between “reality,” hallucination, and dream is more a question of relative causal efficacy–things in “reality” tend to have more reliable causal relationships–than of absolute concrete difference in kind.

    All of which is just to say, from a Buddhist perspective, this is a great insight! You should be glad to have seen just how fragile our ordinary sense of “reality” actually is.

  24. jon_hill987 says:

    To me, the only real use of VR is in games where the player character is sat down. Driving games, flight sims (space or atmospheric). Anything where the player character has to walk just causes all kinds of issues without an omnidirectional treadmill.

  25. Shazbut says:

    Wasn’t expecting to see multiple people using this anecdote to make references to mysticism, but it’s interesting

  26. kderby42 says:

    The common theme here seems to be that VR is messing with your brain. Could this have long term side effects? I think I will observe from the sidelines for a couple of years.

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      particlese says:

      As with any “mess with the brain via its normal inputs”* stuff, I think it’s bound to depend on the person and their past experience but is usually okay after some adaptation.** If you’re worried, maybe try a few in-store demos a couple times (it’ll probably be quite weird the first time) and wait for the hardware to improve and for the long-term effects to get better statistics and involve longer terms. If it’s any indication, there are loads of devs out there who have put on these headsets most days over the last couple of years, and they’re still in good enough shape to keep making games.

      *I currently draw the line at galvanic vestibular stimulation (zapping the inner ear to dick around with balance perception) for myself, so I get where you’re coming from.

      **I’ve been messing around with VR since (only) the DK1 and DK2, and I was mildly disappointed by the lack of weird feelings when taking off the Vive after two hours today. (My first session with it.)

  27. Radthor Dax says:

    The phenomenon was dubbed “VR Inertia” on the Vive subreddit a few weeks back. Not wanting to lean on a desk just in case it wasn’t really there, etc!

  28. Dr.Ded says:

    Very interesting. I often have a sensation related to video games that is sort of the opposite (and probably fairly common). It’s one of the main reasons I still play video games. While playing certain immersive games, especially first person games, I experience a sensation of deep immersion where the connection between my controller inputs and on screen movement sort of fades away and for a few minutes at a time, I lose myself in the game . The wires are crossed and my hands are not controlling the movement of the on screen character, but the actual neck and leg muscles of the character. It is an amazing sensation that I had assumed all gamers experienced until I started asking people if they ever experienced the same thing. It should also be noted that the first time I had this feeling was as a teenager smoking weed and playing Duke Nukem. Way back then, I whispered to myself, “I will always smoke pot and play video games”. Maybe certain people’s brains allow an easier shift between perceived realities. Maybe I should be careful about doing drugs while using VR or maybe I should ALWAYS use drugs while playing with VR.

  29. Reeffrog says:

    What you describe sounds a bit like a so-called awakening. It can be really weird initially. Or not. One description could be that the personal center called “me” just vanishes and everything is seen from lucidity and not from the personal center. So to speak… It’s really difficult to describe because the lucidity/beingness is not in the apparent realm of the phenomenal and observable. It’s not in time.

    And like Holden McGroin remarked the so-called true self is indeed without form. That recognition that everything is myself and love is a synonym for myself usually comes “later” (seems to, on a phenomenal level). The seeming recognition of the emptiness and the sense of everything being like a virtual reality or like a dream usually reveals itself first. This is how it seems to go for most from what I’ve heard.

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    particlese says:

    That is interesting! I love having or hearing about perceptual hiccups like this, and it sounds like the sort of thing brain-minded academics and practitioners use to figure out how the brain operates normally.

    After about 6 hours in the thing today (just got it and was/am a bit excited), the weirdest thing I got for my trouble was a fleeting feeling of “hey, my finger should be scrolling the web page on the phone from far away” a few times during the last half hour. The worst? A headache, probably mostly from not drinking enough water, though I’m also not convinced I had the IPD knob set right. I wonder if it would be different if I had quit while my mind was still chewing on the out-of-bounds grid, or if I limit the play area some more, getting
    The near-constant warning you described.

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      particlese says:

      All right, tonight my concious mind was repeatedly feeling confused that my muscle memory and hand-eye coordination was working so well in the real world after escaping The Lab and while preparing for unconsciousness. It was similar to the amusing disorientation I felt after the first time I manipulated stuff under a microscope for too long, only less inconvenient. I am pleased.

  31. Velox says:

    As someone who has not yet experienced VR reading through these comments is just amazing.

  32. jaylab says:

    A little late to the comments party but I registered here just to comment on this. I did a -marathon- session with the Vive the first day I got it because I wanted to be sure the thing was setup, tweaked, calibrated, etc. to the max for verisimilitude.

    When I was done many hours later I was having some very strange after effects as well. I also noticed while calibrating the IPD inside the helmet when using a single eye my eye would sort of ‘black out’ unable to process any more input. I’d have to switch eyes to work on the IPD calibration.

    There were many things both in helmet and especially out of it that were like what you described. It makes one really wonder, what is the true nature of reality?

    There is some chance that we are in fact piloting highly advanced ‘meat robots’ right now through this lifetime. Would it be so hard to believe given what we’ve seen for ourselves now.