5 min read

This was the idea I had on a Monday afternoon after about 45 minutes inside my VR headset. I've just barely moved. A forest surrounded me. A bird perched on a branch of a tree. My hand held a controller for video games. What I saw, however, was a futuristic airbrush, a paint sprayer that looked like a prop in a sci-fi film from the 1940s.



A button touch and I've been able to color the world. 

The bird was purple before me. It was pink then. RED, blue, then again, pink. I fired a feathered creature in a random color as if I were Flora, Fauna and Merryweather all in one, playing the chroma of the cosmos as if I alone had the power of the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy godmother.


Soon the alarm rang on my mobile. This was my intention to remove the VR headset and roll on the radio to listen to another sobering Mayor Eric Garcetti's address. I sat up as the Mayor of L.A. talked, my eyes scratching at my coffee table. Enlightened by the late afternoon heat, the wear avoided my vision for a long time. After spending the day in an increased reality, I was suddenly more in tune with my very real, very dusty environment. The delightful world of "Color Space" was very far away.



Space Color

Get lost in a "Color Room" (Lighthouse) virtual coloring book.


The first couple of weeks, I tried to get acquainted with my place. When I chased my cat and lied to her, I wanted to see furniture as blocky skyscrapers as she could.


I tried to transform my home into a playground, and this helped (and still helps) to ease my anxiety. I have to be frank with myself, however. I'm not emotionally in a good place. I see something outside my windows-whether the first floor mailbox of my 12-story apartment complex or recycling tanks at the end of the building-as places to be afraid.


Home is not a playground in this head-space; it is a hidden place, at least until the pandemic ends-or the decline of the market leads to expulsions. What comes first right now feels like a toss-up. My home isn't comfortable anymore.


I found virtual reality at this moment. And I was, to be sure, cynical.


Burned too many times by the promise of a virtual reality revolution, many works felt like technological demonstrations rather than rich experiences. And although I love many animated VR shorts, they often discover that they can enjoy their charms without a restrictive headset.


The underlying problem, beyond technology or expense, which plagued many VR experiences, is simple: Why do you ask me to put something on my head? The answer is all too often no deeper than "because it's more immersive."


Another important question came to light as the technology matured: How will this virtual reality world respond to me and make me acknowledge?

It doesn't mean that I'm transported to a virtual world all around that allows 360-degree views; I'm just taken out of the experience if my being recognized. Consider it as an awareness of the product which is not only a player or a viewer, but more like an actor. I enter a world to play, and the less the world sees my appearance, the less patience I have to spend time in it.


"The difference is the feeling of presence," said VR industry veteran Jesse Schell, the " inspired whose early VR success story in Schell Games Expect You To Die," escape room.


'If I film two people sitting at the table to make a movie out of it, ' says Schell, 'two people, having a conversation and meeting one another. When I do the same thing in VR, the participant is thinking, 'Why do they notice me? Right now, it seems strange to be talking and not knowing it here.


And so late that Monday afternoon, I switched off the radio and waited for the hole in the rabbit.


Rabbit Hole Down

"Down the Rabbit Hole" is a world of dioramic settings for the VR user.


A cat, suitably named "Down the Rabbit Hole," lost in an experience in virtual reality. A diorama like world-surroundings familiar to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the "Alice in Wonderland" of Lewis Carroll, encircles me in the headset.


It is not so much transported to another dimension as I go to a more innocent age, one full of childlike wonder. I just have to imagine that a toy rabbit or a doll is alive; I step ahead of me and with me, so that I can lead them. I see the world at a moment from their viewpoint. Some time I pull their rooms towards me, or place them above me.


I want to go, even if the books on the rabbits' shelves not written in a known language.


"Father Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series," a piece by Lucasfilm's ILMxLab, began playing but developed into an image of immersive theatre. Then, Dreamscape invented location-based explorations, where world buildings are so excellent that their 20 to 25-minute adventures will always feel too short even if they are so exquisite.


Recent events, particularly during the past year, from the theater "The Under Present" to the incredibly detailed puzzles of "The Room VR: A Dark Matter," or even the vibrant book-inspired "Color Space" show that virtual reality has fulfilled its long-hyped promise.


It was a gradual change.



Moss 

In the "Moss" VR game, the characters know a human is looking at them.


"Moss," released in 2018, is one of the first VR games to use platforming techniques. However, the game, where the player was playing the role of a sort of world supervisor leading a sword-fighting mouse by the name of Quill, was one of the first to reawaken my interest in the medium after the hype that Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR launched in 2016.


In Moss, Quill knows the player's response and sometimes communicates and asks for help without a word. Dialogue between an early stage implies that we humans played a role in this festive universe, creating an ancient mystery around our presence.


In the past few months alone, several major VR updates have announced, with developers expelling more details for the Oculus Quest autonomous headset, a system that allows VR of high quality reasonably accessible while working separately from the cord and with no costly computer.



The VR Room

"The Room VR: A Dark Matter" setting is rich, and the game feels relaxed until it's spooky.


Simply booting “The Room” creates a cozy, in-the-cold sensation. Only the mystery that unfolds is spooky and constantly toys with us. And yet it never does so in a jostling way (I avoid most thrillers and all things horror). Instead, the game invites us to interact with much of its environment and has us wearing virtual glasses to illuminate a world-within-a-world. When using this game mechanic, I am now two steps away from the actual world, making the virtual one feel even richer.


Of course, these brief respites from the actual world are cheap. The headset that makes the most sense is the Meta Quest, which, if you can find it in stock, sells for either $300 or $400, depending on the storage size. The Quest has been hard to find since its release about a year ago, and the Facebook-owned company has stated production has affected by the current health crisis.


I should also remember that I discussed Valve's "Half-Life: Alyx," the most talked about VR game released this year. I don't have the budget for the device that can operate it, so my basic laptop can cut it even with an optional cord that can be connected with the Quest.


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