Oculus Rift. HTC Vive. Playstation VR. To some they’re just toys, another gimmick to liberate consumers’ hard earned cash from their wallets, a fad that’ll go the way of 3D and all the other gimmicks that came before it, right? Wrong. Virtual reality, or VR for short, is far from the usual smoke and mirrors angle this industry tends to throw out at us with each new passing leap in entertainment technology. 3D was supposed to be huge, not become the benchmark for lackluster film transfers and jacked up movie prices. 4D was supposed to help the audience become one with the story, but soggy popcorn from the constant “immersive” spray of water and the chilly blasts of faux air being shot at you do more to pull you out of the experience than in. Smell-O-Vision was supposed to help the audience…smell things (the 60s were a wacky time apparently), and what about all of these great video games coming out? Us nerds can’t seem to convince the world at large that video games aren’t just for kids and people who can’t stand the sunlight, so that avenue is effectively closed to the masses. So where does that leave us when it comes to being fully immersed in a new world? Where can we truly experience something that doesn’t just claim to put you inside the story, but actually does?
Enter the virtual world, a digital space where anything can happen. A place where you’re not just watching the fictional world you wish you could live in, you’re experiencing it. And there’s a difference.
Practically every video game since the inception of the industry has allowed its players to do one simple thing: play in a world where you can be whatever or whoever you want. Every film since the first moving images has allowed its audiences to do yet another simple thing: see new worlds where anything can happen. Both have their own unique quirks and differences, both strive to give you something you can’t get in every day life, and while these are the norms for how we experience our entertainment today, the future has something even more spectacular in mind.
Imagine this: New York City. Times Square. Midnight. The billboard lights shine bright and blinding. No one is on the streets, a near impossibility for the city, when suddenly a building explodes to your right, a giant, leathery, lizard-like foot comes crashing through the falling rubble and smoke. You look up to see…what? It’s too tall to tell, but you feel the energy coming from the thing, hear its deafening, iconic roar directly above you as it tosses a car into the sky. Your heart races and you break out in goosebumps as we cut to a bomber jet flying dangerously low to the city, soaring blind in the smoky haze. A car suddenly appears in front of the jet, hurtling by at inconceivable speeds, narrowly missing the fighter by inches. We’re inside the cockpit now, our breath short and labored, as the fighter pilot watches the car sail past. He breathes a panicked sigh of relief, turns to continue his bombing run when an arm the size of a city block comes swinging into view. We jump as the arm connects with the jet, the pilot’s scream cutting off as the screen goes black. Godzilla just took out another jet, and he’s not going to stop until the city is his.
Now if all of that sounds pretty cool to you, imagine this: there’s no audience, no one to bother you with an offhand comment about what’s going on onscreen, no one to stare down with piercing eyes when their cell phone rings (because one always does). It’s just you, the world you see before your eyes and all around you, and the absolute thrill of finally being able to experience the stories you’ve only ever watched before. Through VR, and through the hard work and determination of innovative and boundary pushing companies like Artists of the Industry, the reality of feeling the immenseness of these silver screen monsters won’t be relegated to just a flat screen and a really loud sound system any longer. We’ll be able feel these creatures, know what it’s really like to stand beneath a towering behemoth as they lay ruin to skyscrapers and city streets alike.
In fact, we’re already well on our way to make the transition over to the VR world, because what is IMAX if not a really big, really loud way to try and shove us into the movie we’re watching? What is Dolby Atmos’ sound technology trying to accomplish if not to become the newest way to further pull us into the world we’re watching through totally immersive 360° sound? If the industry hasn’t inadvertently been moving towards this new way of experiencing our content since its inception, then we got really lucky traveling down the wrong path, but to me – and to many industry leaders alike – this is something entirely different that can’t just be talked about, it’s something that has to be experienced to be believed.
Now if the idea of VR doesn’t excite you then you might still be of the thinking that this technology isn’t worth your time, and that’s where you’d be mistaken. Never before have we been able to experience the stories and entertainment we crave on a daily basis, and never before have we been able to literally be inside the worlds we’ve always wanted to inhabit. While still a bit pricy and targeted at a very niche group of people in today’s world, I for one, can’t wait for this technology to rise above the limits we know today and become something truly immersive and new in the near future. I long for the days when I’ll finally be able to be in Gotham City, following Batman down a dark alley as he puts another criminal into the dirt. I can’t wait to travel to a galaxy far, far away where I can feel the vastness of space and the giddiness of traveling at light speed as the newest chapter of one of the greatest sagas of all time unfolds in front of me. I’m tired of only seeing flat images and hearing tinny music from my TV speakers, I want more, and I think there’s a lot of people out there who, like me, are ready for the next step. VR, while still in its infancy, is the future, and the future can’t come fast enough.