It may take place within a small carpeted space, but the new virtual-reality exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science opens up a wide world that heightens the senses.
The instructions from the museum staff are simple: Follow the bloody footsteps. Raise both hands if you’re frightened and want to leave the haunted house. Raise only one hand if you get lost and need to be redirected. And, remember, there are no walls inside.
Even with this intellectual knowledge, you can find yourself “pushing” open doors, carefully stepping along narrow planks to avoid plunging into boiling water and dodging a host of ghastly creatures.
The haunted-house experience is recommended for ages 8 and older, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Children who would be spooked in a traditional haunted house will be just as scared, if not more so, in this one. Still, museum docents say children as young as 5 have explored the haunted house and asked to go again.
Outside of the haunted house, the exhibition includes several virtual-reality kiosks and games and an augmented-reality screen. Admission is separate from regular museum prices because the experience is designed to be stand-alone.
Virtual Reality Haunted House When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Where: Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park DriveDetails: $12 for adults and children, $8 for museum members, VR tickets do not grant access to the rest of the museum; hmns.org
So far, the exhibition has been wildly popular, said Latha Thomas, VP of marketing and communications for the museum. Visitors have spent hours on a single VR game. “Some of our staff members come here every morning,” she said. “It’s a great way to start the day.”
In the augmented-reality portion near the exhibition’s entrance, visitors watch themselves on a screen, similar to seeing yourself in department store security camera footage. Then it gets interesting.
A dinosaur approaches and crosses your path, rain clouds emerge and pour rain on you, a cheetah ambles up and turns on his back, seemingly asking you to scratch his belly. An astronaut in exploration joins you on the screen. Dolphins jump through ocean waves.
Nearby, a row of kiosks are loaded with interactive games and experiences. Using a mask and holding an orb, you can enter a space station and take pictures for friends down on Earth. Or navigate the Colosseum in Rome. In space, you can scoop up planets and moons, then throw them around.
Other, more “normal,” offerings include the chance to play archery or use a slingshot. Using a virtual-reality MRI, you can even complete a body scan.
Devonnie Young visited the VR haunted house with her 13-year-old son. “He thinks it’s neat,” she said, adding that he had not before visited a full-reality haunted house. “It was real enough,” she said. “He was tense the whole time.”
Parents can stand nearby to watch their kids explore the haunted house. After completing the mazelike walk inside the haunted house, museum officials point out the footpaths participants took, which seems very small compared to the length of the VR journey.
The VR exhibition is a beta program in partnership with developers of commercial VR technology. Moving forward, all new museum exhibitions will include some sort of VR component, Thomas said. That might mean more trips for you to the museum.