Monday, September 14, 2020

My Halloween VR Experience

So this happened a couple of years ago when I was 18. I had just finished high school and was only working part time so I had tons of free time, and most of it was spent with my girlfriend. When Halloween came we made plans to attend a friends party but that fell apart in a big way (long story) and so we decided to have some fun and seek out some haunted houses. We live in one of the biggest cities in the Midwest so there was a lot to choose from.

Most of the places we visited were pretty cheesy. Some guy in a bedsheet jumping out and yelling “Boo!” the occasional plastic spider, you know the stuff. But then we came to one that was really something else.

It was a fairly small booth set up down a busy pedestrian street and was marketing some sort of tech company, Virtua something maybe? I don’t know, I had never heard of it before and I didn’t really bother trying to remember it. Besides, it wasn’t the company that was supposed to draw your attention, it was the sign, which read “Experience Pure Horror in VR.”

Now I always thought VR was cool, but being a broke teenager I never actually had the chance to use it, so I was pretty excited. My gf felt differently, normally she was a huge horror junkie but this time she seemed spooked. I asked her what was up and she said that it just felt “off” to her. I shrugged my shoulders, told her to wait for me to come back and I stepped into the booth.

Inside the booth an, admittedly quite attractive, lady directed me to a chair and placed a VR headset on me. She asked me if I was ready and when I said yes the screen turned on and I immediately found myself in the most immersive virtual world I had ever been in. The graphics were amazing, not quite photorealistic, but the total immersion of VR made that irrelevant, I felt like I was really in that world.

Within the simulation I was strapped to a railcar. There was no real way to move, but I could rotate my head and look around me. As the railcar started I was brought through an amusement park-esque haunted house experience. At first it was really tame, and thus kinda lame. Lots of ghosts and vampires and other basic stuff, though the sheer immersion did make it a bit more interesting then a regular haunted house.

Now, the whole experience was mostly like that, just generic Halloween monsters and jump scares, but what really sold the experience was the narration. The narrator had a soft but confident voice, it really reminded of a college professor. In fact, what he was talking about was kind of like a lecture too, as he kept going on and on about the inevitably of death, man’s irrelevance to nature and how God didn’t exist.

As the ride went on and the voice kept talking in my ear I found myself getting more and more scared. Not at any one thing but just the way that the narrator would distract me just enough for the monsters to take me by surprise. And then, when I was used to the monsters, the narrator would come back into focus and remind me of the emptiness of existence.

As the narration went on things started to get more personal. He started to shift focus away from God and nihilism and onto my family and my loved ones. He started asking me if I loved my girlfriend more for her personality or for her body. He asked me if I thought my parents were happy that I was born. As he was saying these things the monsters jumping out started to change. Instead of zombies and vampires it was my father covered in blood, my mom with her wrists slit, my girlfriend with half her face blown off.

At one point the monster that jumped out was me, at the age of 14. He was holding a gun and the narrator asked me if I was truly happy that I hadn’t killed myself. I don’t even know how he could’ve known about that.

Eventually the ride came to an end. The railcar stopped and a hooded man appeared. He spoke to me and I realized he was the narrator. He said that though my journey was at an end, he was going to leave me with something that would make me remember it for the rest of my life. Then he pulled out a knife and ran it across my forehead.

The screen went black and the headset was lifted off me by the attractive assistant. I thanked her and walked outside to meet my girlfriend. I told her all about the experience and how immersive it was and what she had to say once I was done will stick with me forever. She pointed at my forehead and said: “how did you get that cut?”

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