My First Time Entering Virtual Reality

            When I was little, I wrote a story about a magical invention that could transport you into books and movies. But the invention kept you safe from harm. All the fun of being in Narnia, Westeros, Hogwarts, and Middle Earth without any of the starvation, pain, executions, or inevitable magical dismemberment. 

            When I was little, that seemed like such a faraway dream.

            But they aren’t kidding when they say that the “future is now”. Virtual reality is a very real technology, and it is no passing fad. 

            My first time using VR was with a group of friends on a Dartmouth DSP, or Domestic Studies Program. It’s a bit like a foreign exchange program, except we stay within the U.S. In our case, we were all studying film in none other than sunny Los Angeles, bragging about the hot weather over our wintery friends back on campus. It was in a VR arcade off Hollywood Boulevard, broken off the area from the Walk of Fame. 

            We put on the goggles, had a time limit set for an hour, and were told to stay within the roped-off areas. Fumbling with the controls, I waved my remote controls, little spheres in the palm of my hands, at the empty air surrounding me. 

            But I’d been transported somewhere else entirely.    

            Millions of pixels formed game graphics that were realer than real. An empty desert, tumbleweeds blowing. My friends blinked back at me from animated faces, all of us playing gun-toting characters.

            LET THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE BEGIN

            I yelped, nearly hitting the wall as a CGI zombie lumbered out of nowhere at me. The helper in the VR arcade laughed, steering me back between the lines.

            We laughed for a full minute as the game reloaded. We died multiple times in the game, all of us wasting bullets and resorting to tossing water canteens and tennis balls. Safe to say, we aren’t the best at zombie invasions. I took a break from that game, loading another one.

            A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

            A Star-Wars-themed simulation loaded on-screen. Suddenly, I had a lightsaber in hand, waiting for Han Solo to lower the doors for the Millenium Falcon. R2-D2 was beeping frantically behind me as I fended off the oncoming Stormtroopers. I wasn’t much at aiming, still stunned by how real everything looked. So much space around me, my eyes adjusting to the new reality. I wanted more.

            Another game. This time, I was back in the space with my friends. We were cyborg superheroes, lasers at our fists and jetpacks on our backs. We soared around the sky, trying to knock each other to the earth below. It’s funny, how competition gets the best of all of us. Soon, we were screaming at foul play, shots in the back and running before the time limit. 

            But then another enemy came onscreen, someone outside our group. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and we forgot out competitiveness, all focused on beating this invader out of the sky for good.

            Too soon, our hour at the arcade was over. We handed over our virtual reality goggles and controls, stepping past the spatial fences. We went through the doors and sat there, blinking into the warm LA night. We stared at the stars, laughing softly, incredulously, at each other. 

            It was like the world wasn’t real anymore, or rather, it looked too real. 

            When I was little, I dreamt of being able to travel into books and movies. Well, that day’s here. And I’ll be returning soon, I’m sure of it.