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Virtual reality gets real

April 25th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

I had the free time for once and figured, why not? The center was right next door, I had a couple hours to kill and I’d never tried this VR stuff before. What better opportunity to see what the kids have been raving about? So I went in, not really knowing what to expect, and proceeded to pay an alarming amount for entry, but it was for a full-day pass to play whichever games I wanted in the facility in ten minute segments. I couldn’t be there all day, but framed in those terms, maybe it wasn’t so steep. You scanned the card they gave you at a sensor in front of the game you wished to play, and then awaited your turn. A straightforward system, though naturally I wasn’t the only one with time to kill, and the lines for any games that looked interesting were lengthy.

Unfortunately, all of them seemed interesting. Everyone playing was undeniably having fun, while the rest of us milled around, waiting. We could see what was happening on the headset the player wore on monitors nearby, but based on the way they moved around and motioned their arms to control the avatars, playing was a much different experience than watching. I was eager to participate as well, so I waited beside a shooter game for nearly half an hour before realizing I still had four people in front of me, i.e. a forty-minute wait. Annoyed, I abandoned that game and went searching for another with a shorter line. I soon located some type of deep sea diving game that looked intriguing, but after standing there an additional half hour, there was a malfunction and we were all forced to try finding something else.

By this point, I had grown quite impatient with waiting, and was also agitated because it seemed I would run out of free time before playing anything at all. Walking hastily around the facility, I abandoned line after line before discovering an unoccupied station where the attendant was looking exceptionally bored. He perked up as I approached. “Would you like to try this game, sir? It’s called 1040VR,” he half-heartedly pitched. “What’s 1040, some kind of a military or police code?” I asked, having noticed the majority of the options for entertainment here involved one of the two professions in some capacity. He insisted it would make more sense if I simply donned the helmet and dove in, and being eager to play anything at all, I agreed.

The screen in the headset was all-encompassing and the headphones blocked out nearly all external sounds. I gripped the two controllers the employee had given me as the game came to life. Numbers spilled out before me, lying on the ground and swirling about my head like some kind of gnat cloud. I instinctively waved my hands about to get them away, which briefly worked before they returned to their cycloning and I tried again. After a few instances of this, I realized I could push the numbers away from me using the controllers in a specific manner, and could get them to stick to what appeared to be a wall a few feet in front of me with several empty boxes on it. Not all numbers would stay in the boxes though, and I eventually I discovered a prompt in the corner of my viewer that guided me to recognize which number belonged where through a color-matching scheme. As with most games, the more success I had, the more it pushed me to go faster, throwing more and more numbers at me and multiplying the boxes on the wall.

I could no longer keep up with the action. A warning sound and a flashing red light became increasingly frequent as I struggled to properly sort the digits, and gradually I noticed the alarm I was hearing was actually a voice shouting at me. Words next to the boxes on the wall had begun to come into focus as well, and I started recognizing some of them as “income,” “marital status,” and “charitable contributions.” I could now make out the enunciation of the warning cry for the first time too; it was simply the word “audit” again and again. My understanding finally clicked as the allotted ten minutes with the game expired and automatically shut the headset off. I stood in silence for a moment before removing it.

“The 1040, really?” I demanded of the attendant. “Was I honestly filling out a tax form just now?” He shrugged lackadaisically and said, “That’s why there’s no line, man,” as if that hadn’t become obvious already. I checked my watch again and noticed I was out of time to spend dawdling and hoping for any other options in this place. My posture slumped. He eyed me for a beat before I sighed and went to put the helmet on once more. “You were doing pretty well, dude,” he offered. “Maybe this time you can make it to the deductions stage. That’s when things get nuts!”

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