The Spiderman ride and its cousins

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Street scene near the Spiderman ride at Universal Studio Islands of Adventure

Another scene near the Spiderman ride

Some entertainments provide cooperative virtual reality games where players (wearing VR helmets) work in teams; by turning your head you can see your teammates' avatars (their representations in the virtual space) as you rush about on some shared task.

But most theme park virtual reality experiences resemble movies; a 3-D film may be accompanied by touch and smell effects built into the audience's seats. A more physical virtual experience comes with in capsule rides where a group sits in a closed capsule that includes wide video projections, sound, and multi-axis twists and jerks. Disney's Star Tours was the first famous example, but such simulators are now trucked to special events and county fairs.

The most advanced shared virtual reality ride I have experienced so far is the Spiderman ride at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. The audience sits in an open car, wearing 3-D glasses, while the car moves jerkily amid huge screens, with heat and light effects. But when I was waiting on the line for this ride, the management announced that there would be a delay due to a technical problem with the ride. To solve the problem, they said that they had to turn the lights on inside the ride building. I wished I could have been inside to see the workings. I did enjoy, though, the confusion those of us in line felt as we tried to decode whether the announcement of the problem was real or was part of the scene-setting TV and audio presentation that filled the time while we waited on line.

So far the immersive theme park virtual reality machines either create virtual thrill rides or put you in action games with minimal plots. They offer no slow, contemplative virtual experiences, perhaps because their currently available computer power cannot provide enough density of detail to support contemplative inspection. Moore's Law should remedy that over time.

Michael Heim (1998) provides an overview of the then-available virtual reality technology and describes artistic creations of virtual realities that do offer a contemplative experience. He also offers a provocative comparison of virtual and natural reality.