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The Other Side: A Virtual Reality Arena MAG
"The Other Side: A Virtual Reality Arena"
I first heard about virtual reality a few years ago. I was instantly fascinated at the idea of going somewhere without actually going there.
Virtual reality is like an advanced computer game. Through computer technology, you can see a three-dimensional image, and feel like you are there. You wear goggles and hold a controller in your hand. When you move your head, the image that you see moves. You can control where you go and what you do. Although it hasn't been used widely for entertainment yet, it is used regularly for training personnel in the space program and the armed forces. Although what you see looks like reality, in truth, it is virtual reality.
"The Other Side: A Virtual Reality Arena" is at the World Trade Center and is open into October. There are four main "rides." In addition, there are two "attractions." The rides and attractions are a combination of virtual reality and simulation, which are related, but different. With virtual reality, you stand up and when you turn, the image turns. With simulation, you sit and as you are watching the image move, your chair turns. Simulations usually have large screens.
I only went on two of the rides, so be aware that I have not had the total experience. It was not what I expected. At all. I expected it to be entertainment-y or science-y. What I got was music video-y and disco-y. I expected nice, clean, spacious. Quiet. What I got was loud, crowded, and with lots of bright colored lights. If that's the future, I can do without it.
The first and best ride that I went on was the "Reactor." It was like playing RoboCop, which was amazing. After waiting in a long line, you go into a room and sit down. The first things I noticed were the seat belts. Uh oh. I am not a roller coaster-type person. But I liked it anyway. RoboCop is about a cop who is a robot (duh!). He rides a motorcycle. And you ride with him. Through walls. Through cars. Through space. Your chair twists and turns. And vibrates and rumbles. Like a motorcycle. It's amazing how many directions a little chair can move. It's thrilling. And it's probably the only motorcycle ride I'll ever take.
"Reactor" is definitely entertainment, and not something I imagine in people's homes in the future. It's big and expensive. It may be the new kind of movie though! That would be neat. (Note: It was a simulation. It wasn't really virtual reality.)
The other ride or attraction that I experienced was called "Virtuality." One side of the pavilion had a racetrack Virtuality, and the other side had a shoot-'em-down game. I opted for the shoot-'em-down.
This was virtual reality. One problem with virtual reality today is that it's similar to the way camcorders were during the first few years. Heavy and uncomfortable. I imagine that virtual reality will get better with time. It's still pretty primitive. What you do is step into a raised platform and lower a waist high bar in a circle around you. You strap a very heavy pack onto your lower back, and someone puts a heavy helmet with built-in goggles onto your head. You get a control stick with two buttons. (There is already a virtual reality system that is more advanced than this, where you put on gloves that are full or sensors and wires. That way, you can actually touch things, and do more complicated things, like playing tennis!)
Then the fun begins. You see a three-dimensional platform floating in space. You must shoot down any pterodactyls (flying dinosaurs) and people that you see. You can go up stairs and weave through columns. It's a little bit hard to maneuver, because you have cords hanging from the pack on your back. The thing that I really liked about this was there were only two buttons to press. To move left or right, you just turn! It's really neat, and you feel like you are walking through a room. It takes a while to get used to it, and you only have two minutes, but it was fun anyway.
I can definitely see fun and educational applications for this. In the future, a geography lesson might consist of actually flying over the Earth! A biology lesson could be swimming in a human's bloodstream. Sound crazy? When our parents were our age, did they ever think that computers would be in every classroom? To choose a social studies project, you could go to places and meet people there before you wrote about them! This could be the Nintendo of the future! We'll have VRPs (Virtual Reality Players).
Another neat thing about virtual reality is that when you're in there, you can't see out. You can't hear what people are saying and in the future, we'll have more choices of where we want to go. The beach, a rain forest, colonial America ... think of the possibilities! What a way to relax! I heard somewhere you can hook up with someone else and go somewhere together.
The other rides (which I didn't go on) were "Chameleon" and "Freedom 6." "Freedom 6" is like the "Reactor," but wilder. "Chameleon" is a ride where you sit in a globe and close the door. You get strapped in and see a runway on a screen in front of you. Whichever way you steer the airplane, the globe turns. You can even go upside-down. It's a combination of virtual reality and an amusement park ride.
"The Other Side" is packed with video games. Unfortunately, many are very similar to ones in regular arcades, only arcades are cheaper. There was also a free laser show, which was sort of neat. That's about the only free thing there. The computer generated 3-D images on the screen were choreographed with lasers, every half hour.
I spent about two and a half hours there. I could have stayed a little longer. You may spend most of your time on lines. The earlier you go, the shorter the lines. I had a pretty good time.
I think that virtual reality and simulation definitely have places in the future, but mostly just for entertainment and education. First it will be in entertainment, then education. Like television and video cassettes were.
Before that though, there need to be some improvements. It isn't very good yet. The equipment will get lighter, you'll be able to do more, and the graphics will get better. It'll be a lot of fun then. I predict that virtual reality will be in our homes someday. Maybe in our children's homes. But it'll be there. n
Review by A. G., Brookline, MA