The beauty of virtual reality (VR) is that it can take us to many places. New worlds and experiences that would otherwise be impossible are right there in front of your eyes, allowing you to venture through terrain and have experiences alien from day-to-day life. For many their first experience will be a peculiar one, but for Charlie Ward this VR debut took an even more bizarre turn.
Working as an advertiser and screenplay writer for Paramount Pictures, Charlie Ward’s daily life might seem like a Hollywood dream for many. However, it’s his first VR experience, as discussed by the man himself below, that is truly out of the ordinary. VRFocus will bring you more tales of VRginity experiences every Saturday, but for today we can enjoy Ward’s first time in his own words:
“This guy is cool. He won’t like hurt you or anything,” explained my husky friend Craig as I reached the door of a large decrepit apartment building in downtown Los Angeles. I glanced down at my knockoff Rolex, a little diddy I got in Chinatown awhile back called a Volex, 11:55pm looked back at me. “How well do you know this guy,” I asked as I passed a sea of discarded takeout food towards a steep staircase resembling something in Ghostbusters. “Not at all really. He’s a friend of a friend’s friend,” responded Craig. Now you’d think by this setup that I was heading into a drug house to buy a couple kilos of white powder, but that wasn’t the case, not even close. Let me explain.
We continued on until we reached a door marked apartment #719. Craig knocked and we waited. About three minutes later Craig knocked again and assured me that “he’s always like this, or so I hear.” I flashed a half-hearted smile and Craig knocked again. Another two minutes later and the door creaked open to reveal a short bald headed man in a snow-white bathrobe. He looked about sixty years old despite Craig claiming to me previous that he was ‘only twenty-four’. “You Murph’s boys?” the man asked. “That’s us.” Craig assured him, and just like that, we stepped inside.
Once inside the apartment, we were greeted to a mess of cable wires, piles of dirty clothes and a fish tank with eight beer bottles resting at its bottom. “The computer is right over there,” the man in the robe informed us. We meandered our way through a sea of clutter and into the living room. “You know much about the Rift?” He asked. “Just that it’s going to change a lot of things in the next ten years,” I answered. The man laughed, coughed, then laughed again. “Next ten years? Try right now dude.” He then handed me what looked like a pair of ski goggles and told me I should ‘take a seat’ as he pointed to a couch designed to look like a racecar. I’m not even slightly kidding about that either. I turned to Craig with bewildered eyes, an expression that said ‘is this really happening?’ before taking my seat on the car couch.
A moment passed and the guy in the robe booted up the computer, navigating through several pages of complex numbers and what appeared to be hieroglyphics until finally stopping on a screen that read Dreadhalls. “Put em on,” he shouted,”it’s time”. Craig, apparently caught up in the hype, turned to me and added, “you may never come back from Riftville”. I put on the Oculus Rift with a smirk.
Now, before I explain what happened next, let me just fill you in on a little backstory about myself. I was born in 1980, and I always loved playing videogames. Whether in an arcade or at home I couldn’t get enough of them. Though as many videogames as I played, nothing blew me away until the first time I experienced DOOM. At the time, I had never played a first-person shooter or anything truly three dimensional, so playing DOOM was like nothing else before it. It was a truly immersive and breathtaking experience. It wasn’t a videogame at all. It was like being transported to the halls of a horrifying new world; in this case a hell ravaged mars, where everything felt terrifying and real. At least, that’s how I remember it, but as time passed and I got older, more and more first-person videogames flooded the market, and eventually I became completely desensitised to them. Don’t get me wrong; I still think DOOM is an awesome videogame, but nowadays playing a first-person game on a TV or monitor just feels flat and not all that immersive.
So you can imagine my reaction to experiencing the Oculus Rift for the first time as I started playing Dreadhalls. Suddenly I was a kid again, experiencing something groundbreaking for the first time, much like I once did long ago with DOOM. Only in the case of Dreadhalls, I wasn’t running around mars with over-sized guns. I was holding nothing more than a flashlight as I walked down the halls of a dungeon. It was completely immersive, scary as hell, and thoroughly engaging. I wasn’t playing Dreadhalls; I was in Dreadhalls. I thought to myself ‘this is going to change everything’.
After about fifteen minutes, the bald guy removed the Rift from my face and I was transported back to the grossest apartment I’d ever seen. I turned to Craig with a huge smile and confessed, “The Rift is incredible. It turns videogames into adventures”. The bald guy chuckled, satisfied, before chiming in with, “Wait until you play the space game I got. It’s like you’re IN Star Wars”. I sat back; staring at the endless piles of discarded clothes surrounding me, the fishless fish tank filled with beer bottles and the couch designed to look like a racecar and thought ‘these are the side effects of a device this amazing’. Completely forgetting your real life because you’re overly invested in your virtual one. Virtual reality is that good. It has the power to captivate your mind and suck you into a videogame world like no tech before it. So I took one final look at his horrific apartment and with a smile I shouted, “let’s go to outer space!” What’s the harm in keeping my real life waiting a few more hours, right?
And that’s how I lost my VRginity in a car.
Oh, and I still have no idea who that guy was but here’s his couch.
Charlie Ward grew up in Buckscounty, Pennsylvania in the United States, where he loved playing videogames, especially immersive games such as Doom. He was also heavily effected by the movie The Lawnmower Man because as he claims “VR was just always sooo damn cool, even back then”. After high school he went to Hawaii for undergrad and then graduated from the American Film Institute with his MBA. He currently works in Hollywood as a screenplay writer and film advertiser where he day dreams about playing the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus full-time.