My recent vacation included lots of great experiences, but there’s one in particular I’d like to talk about.
It’s something called The VOID.
If you’re not familiar with The VOID, it is basically a holodeck. You know, like from Star Trek the Next Generation. You think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. Well, not much, anyway.
The VOIC is essentially a Virtual Reality (VR) experience in a real 3D environment which has been “skinned” to look like someplace else. You interact with actual objects, including real guns that you carry and you physically move through the locations.
Intrigued? Read on.
The future isn’t what it used to be
I actually wrote about something similar to this in The Chronotrace Sequence. In that trilogy the characters interact with something called the esolace, a neural network which basically turns your mind into a supercomputer. One of the many features of the esolace is the ability to “skin” the world around you into whatever environment or location you choose. Only in the books, you don’t need a headset or any special equipment to experience it.
This summer was my second trip to The VOID. The first time I went, I did the Star Wars mission. This time I did Ralph Breaks the Internet. Star Wars was a much more immersive story, but the VR was amazing both times.
Here’s a picture of what my son and I looked like in the Ralph Breaks the Internet world. He was the green guy and I was the purple one.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like and I know that picture isn’t very impressive, but when I was looking at my son, that is exactly what I saw. I saw that green guy. And when I looked at myself, my hands were pink like that other character’s skin.
The VOID is something akin to having a lucid dream, or perhaps being inside a movie which is happening in real time. It’s not like a video game (okay, the Ralph Breaks the Internet scenario was somewhat). You are too wrapped up in the story and the objectives to think about it as anything other than real.
If The VOID is like a lucid dream, it’s one that you could, if you stopped to think about it, “eject yourself out of.” You could stop and make yourself aware of the fact that it is all a simulation, but you would have to make a conscious effort to do so. It is that convincing.
I mentioned the physical, tactile nature of the experience. Well, there is also heat and wind which you can actually feel. You wear an integrated vest so if you get shot, you will feel it (it’s not painful of course). If something around you gets hit, you will see that. In one firefight we were on a balcony and the railing kept getting hit and you could see the blaster impact points, though they did fade after a while.
How did I get here?
Another interesting thing about The VOID is how I found out about it. Some time ago I was on Tracy Hickman’s web page for some reason. It was probably for research. I like to check out other authors’ websites. If you’re not familiar with him, Tracy is most well known as one of the authors of the Dragonlance books, many of which I read growing up.
I noticed that Tracy was announcing that he would be missing GEN CON (probably the largest gaming convention in North America) for the first time in many years. This intrigued me as I am pretty sure that if any audience would appreciate his books it would be the GEN CON crowd. Why would he miss a chance to connect with enthusiastic readers?
He stated that the reason he would no longer be attending was because he was taking a full time position as Director of Story Development at The VOID. Apparently his son was heavily involved in creating the company and concept behind The VOID. And when he asked Tracy to join him, Tracy decided to change his career and join the team.
Different ways to experience a story
I have to say, working at The VOID, especially on story development, sounds like an amazing job. But this is the author of Dragonlance we’re talking about. It isn’t like he was a struggling no-name author. I know his books don’t sell anything like they used to, but I wonder, would I ever give up writing for something like this?
I don’t think so.
Because as good as The VOID is, and honestly it is a powerful experience which I will never forget, it is not the same as reading a great book. We’ve all heard the expression of “losing yourself” in a book. But with The VOID, you truly do lose yourself. You are no longer even on earth. You’re somewhere in a galaxy far far away.
You’re not just watching a Star Wars movie. It’s like Disney has somehow cast you in the movie.
And yet, unlike a book, the loss is total here. This isn’t like a secondary experience (what happens in a great book) of reality. This is (very nearly) a primary experience of another reality. It’s very difficult for my mind, even now, long afterwards, not to think of myself as having actually been in those places and done certain things there.
I’m still here
With a book, it is not so much an experience of loss as it is of transcendence. Yes, my awareness of myself drifts to the back of my thoughts, but I still remain who I am. In fact, in some strange mystical way, my own personality adds to the story. Because everyone will read a story slightly different. I lose myself and keep myself at the same time. It’s a paradox.
With virtual reality as immersive as The VOID, I become lost in another primary world. It’s not the same when you read a book.
As Lewis put it:
“But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
So, yes, The VOID, is an incredible experience, but unlike Tracy, when the mask comes off, give me back the vellum and ink. Because my life is meant to be lived by me, as unheroic and bland as that may be. And the stories that move and inspire me are best kept in that secondary chamber of my mind where they can enrich and deepen life, rather than replace it.