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The Last VR Convert

Finally, I tried virtual reality. It was amazing and didn't even make me hurl.

The guy manning the official Nvidia VR demo room at this week's GPU Technology Conference in Silicon Valley asked about my VR experience. I said I had none and was very sure that it would make me vomit because a good-sized subset of normal videos games are capable of making me vomit when played on a large-enough screen. VR is, of course, the largest screen ever, ergo …

I was reassured and strapped into a Vive headset. As a top-serious technology journalist who doesn't even really play video games that don't involve Civilization or betting—no time!—my tour was the non-consumer version. So, instead of Arkham City I found myself in the heart of a construction site—a yawning atrium woven with exposed metal beams and dusted by voxel noise. Soon, this will be Nvidia's IRL Silicon Valley headquarters, a mammoth complex that will look a bit like a pancaked sports arena under a microchip blanket when finished.


With one controller I could skip to different places in the facility, and with the other I could move forward and backward through time, seeing the building at various stages of construction. This particular simulation was developed by Nvidia to be used in the design process of the new building. While architects usually resort to artist renderings and models of spaces-to-be, VR prototyping allowed for the building to be inhabited before it even existed.

The next stop was another building, the lobby of a museum I think. This is where it really sank in or started to. The room, a skylit lobby of polished stone, was beautiful and you could even walk around in it a bit, but the real attraction was subtle. It was the light; light streamed in from a glass skylight above existing as not another thing in the room with me, but as something more like what light actually is. For most humans, light is what makes a space. It's not a property of a space, it is that space. Light shines life into space.

The sense of it in VR is natural, but also a bit weird. It hit when I looked from the floor to the ceiling. Right there, in a subtle shift of shadow within the cup of the ceiling's curvature I felt it on my face. A coolness, the settling of air. The weight of space.

I've never experienced light like that in any digital medium.

Then I was squirting neon paint into the mouth of a funhouse clown and slashing at balloons with a pair of swords. My brief session closed with a sampling of VR Funhouse, Nvidia's VR physics demo. More than anything, I loved squirting paint into the air and watching it fall back at me, splashing against my virtual face.

I get it, or I get something about it. One thing I get is that VR's appeal is really, deeply tied to reality-reality and I'm not sure I quite expected that. It also didn't make me puke, so there's that.