You begin in darkness. Then a crack forms and light shines through, growing brighter as more of the wall encasing you falls away. You look out and see your parents, both eagles, chirping as they pull at the shell that you no longer need. With your egg casing gone, you see the world that you have been born into: Paris. And then you take off, soaring high above the Seine, flapping through the middle of the Eiffel Tower and cruising on to Notre Dame.
Although this might sound like an enthralling dream, it’s not. It’s reality…virtual reality.
On July 9, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science unveiled its latest addition, a virtual-reality arcade that will transport people of all ages (all ages ten and up, that is) around the world and even to Mars without ever actually leaving the museum.
“You can go places you’ve never been before. It gives guests a totally new experience,” says Stephanie Wood, the museum’s director of guest services.
The museum built the facility itself, while the ten games available come from outside companies. I tested out four: Eagle Flight, Google Earth Virtual Reality, Mars Odyssey, and Beat Saber. At each station in the arcade, a user wears audio-equipped goggles and holds two controllers, then takes off into a new reality.
Living as an eagle, even for just a few minutes, is a special experience. All that is required for flying is head tilting, hand movement and some pressing of the triggers on the controllers. I tried to flap my wings using my arms, but the eagle appeared to be on autopilot in that regard. The game is great for those who have never been to Paris but want to explore the historic city…from the sky.
Google Earth offers similar benefits, transporting a user around the globe. I visited the Colosseum in Rome and also poked around near my mother’s apartment in Manhattan. Eagles are not involved in this game, but it’s still enjoyable, especially for those who love to explore new places.
Mars Odyssey takes the user to our red next-door neighbor. The two controllers transform into gloved astronaut hands that you can see in front of you, as you are tasked with welding broken machinery on Mars. Both fun and educational, this game will certainly inspire some young people to start studying astrophysics.
Beat Saber is totally different from the other three games I tried; the game is like Dance Dance Revolution meets Star Wars. You hold two lightsabers and swing at boxes to the beat of a song. It definitely got my heart pumping.
This is a great innovation, which allows people to fly to different places, with the help of Virtual Reality and explore and learn more about them. The full immersion that Virtual Reality provides makes the experience more realistic, enhancing the feeling of presence (which is studied by the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project, alongside the Storytelling and Gamification fields). Finally, the existence of games is a part of the Gamification field, which makes the whole experience more fun and interesting.