Exploring virtual worlds

VR event at the Isabel displays the wonders of interactive tech

Carly Williams testing out virtual reality technology.
Photo: 
I stood on an asteroid, visited a Nazi-era prison and got to be Pac-Man, all in just one day at the Isabel Bader Center for the Performing Arts. 
 
On Jan. 24, I attended i-ON Kingston, a session showcasing virtual reality technology. i-ON Kingston is a series from Interactive Ontario, an organization that aims to spread awareness about interactive media.
 
The session showcased five virtual reality experiences and also featured a talk from Henry Faber, the co-founder of Gamma Space. It was attended by around 60 eager students as well as a range of industry professionals. 
 
The event began with time to try out all of the virtual reality consoles and after lining up to test out the installations, I was in a whole new world. 
 
The installations ranged greatly in both the content as well as technological scale. One installation was a desktop-supported tour of a Nazi-era asylum. This means users dawned a virtual reality headset, used an Xbox controller to move around, and became immersed in a World War II Nazi Germany asylum. 
 
Users could move through the building, listen to an interview with a war survivor, and look at virtual artifacts, all at their own pace. 
 
When I donned the helmet for a Pac-Man-style game created by Queen’s computing students, I was captivated. I was also momentarily dizzy, but I found my footing fast enough. 
 
I traveled around the game as Pac-Man, gathering Pac-Dots and fleeing ghosts, quickly forgetting the world around me. Even the observers standing just over my shoulder seemed to disappear. While I was only given a five-minute demo, I could’ve been Pac-Man for hours. 
 
On the other side of the tech scale were two room-scale installations. This means the user is standing, they have space to move around and use a virtual helmet and two hand held controllers to explore the space. 
 
The hit of the show was a room-scale exhibit provided by Gamma Space. This installation allows users to blast away what appears to be rock walls, until it’s revealed that they’re actually floating through space on an asteroid, with stars and planets all around them. 
 
If given enough time, users can explore a space station and even operate it. Every new discovery in an installation like this one is exciting. I wasn’t just playing a video game, I was on an adventure. 
 
When I took off the helmet and returned to earth, I was once again a little dizzy. I also wanted to play again. The games are so addictive that it’s no surprise companies such as Sony, Google and Nintendo are investing in virtual reality. 
 
While I may not be able to purchase my own virtual reality headset just yet — the HTC Vive headset retails for around $800 — speaker Henry Faber assured attendees that the technology is advancing quickly, and will be accessible soon. 

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