By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, the burst of fear struck. Eyes already moist. I knew.
A distant voice on the line, almost a whisper. Come quickly Stephen
I barely noticed the other cars on that ten minute drive. Don't remember the start, the turns, the reds that slowed me down.
But I remember the questions. The recriminations. Through the tears.
Why did you leave? You shouldn't have listened. You should be there.
Please let me not be too late.
But I knew.
Running the last few hundred yards. Into the grey corridors. Stairs two at a time.
I'd just left for some sleep. They said it would be OK.
I needed the sleep.
Faces turned towards me. Mum. Blue uniforms. Faces telling the worst.
He lay unmoving. Face upwards. The machines gone. Just a man and a bed. For the first time in weeks at peace.
I moved to the bedside.
The words choked. Feeble. Pleading.
I held a cold hand with both mine for the last time. He was gone. And the flood of tears came.
September 17th 2036
It's been 20 years. Much has changed but nothing has changed. It all goes so fast. The pain goes. You have to move on, don't you? But I still miss him. There are still the odd moments, further apart each time, as a memory surfaces and the tears fight through.
What wouldn't I give to hear him again, as if he was standing next to me.
To hear him say 'I'm proud of you son'
Mum is moving house. The memories are thick as we rummage in the loft for the last stored items of a lifetime.
There's an old metal case. Some of your Dad's old stuff, she says.
Old medals from the Marines days. Paperwork, job start dates, school reports. Fading identity cards. At the bottom a brown envelope. One word on the front. My name.
It's a disc. Like a game disc.
Later at home. Curious. I insert the disc in the virtual reality player. It's the only way to play anything now. Games, music, videos. Any experience you want in seconds.
Immediately I'm in a clearing among the trees. I know this place. I remember it. Golden light streams through to the damp forest-like floor, chattering up in the leaves, an English spring morning.
I turn to the voice I know.
We smile with wet eyes.
And we walk. Downhill through the dale. The memory flashes. Standing here 30 years ago, on the last holiday before I moved into full adulthood. ''When I'm gone, scatter me here''. The words returned as if it was yesterday.
We camp under a thousand stars. We walk the riverbank as if I was six again, with stories of elves in the trees and snakes that were never seen.
We sit by the pond in the garden. Where he always sat in summers after the days work.
Then we fly. Into the inky blackness, past planets and comets. Through mountain ranges and deep gorges, hand in hand, skimming the tree tops. In the seat of a fighter jet. Vertical from a standing start.
Roller coasters, a football game.
Finally. ''I made it for you, son. But it's time to go back''
It’s a true story. Well, up until the last half anyway, and for you this could be a real possibility.
Can you see the power in it? Imagine if you could bottle that. Recreate it. Imagine if I could share that with my brothers, with my Mum.
How magical would that be?
What it does of course is illustrate what might be the best experience for me. Not necessarily for you. It’s powerful on a personal emotional level.
It’s the emotional engagement that makes any experience a truly memorable one. And we all react differently on an emotional level. The impact varies from person to person. And there are dozens of forms that emotional engagement can take.
So what is it for you? What VR-invoked emotion will be the one that you remember as the greatest?
Or is it a memory? A memory of someone or something. Recreated.
The memories that mean things to you. Recreated whenever you want, in as real a way as you can conceivably re-experience them.
The birth of a child
Their first steps
Your 21st birthday party
A special family trip
……or someone who’s no longer here
There are 1001 more. One that might work in VR for each of us.
They can be remembered in photos of course. In reeled movies (if you’re old enough) or videos. They can be stored in our brains to spring forth without warning or cause, or be triggered by a smell, sound, or image.
But many fade over time. You remember the essence. Some parts of the experience. It’s like you can touch it, but every time you do it slips a few inches away.
We can create those things for the future now. We can record videos. We can take pictures. We can build up the elements of a memory for our own or someone else’s use.
But outside of our heads and on photos or videos they’re flat. Two dimensional.
VR could give them body. VR could make them real.
…That’s Not For Me, What Other Virtual Reality Experiences Are Best?
For a real killer experience in VR, and one that takes the broadest level of adoption, we’re looking for something that (almost) everyone does or wants. For this, I think we’ve got to look wider than the demographic groups we might normally consider as candidates.
But each of those demographic groups will of course have a deep interest in championing what’s best in their area of experience. And, rightly so, the conviction that the best VR experience sits within it.
So let’s look at the alternatives. Most will still have an emotional response at their core which makes them powerful.
You’d have to say gaming will be a possibility. Surprisingly though, any gamers I’ve spoken to have not expressed deep interest (and admittedly it could be too small a number and/or just particular to that group, although they do contain some truly avid game fans).
There will definitely be a few best vr games lists bouncing around. But as an overall best virtual reality experience it’s hard to see any specific game taking the title.
Not to say that there aren’t or won’t be some great immersive games. Although perhaps not an example that best illustrates the power of VR games, you could have a look at the Toy Box for an idea of the fun level they can bring to the table:
Virtual reality porn has a shot of course, and is already making some big waves. I could be wrong, but for me this is still mostly private stuff. Sure it’s openly talked about and it’s nothing to hide in most cases, and it’s not that I’m an expert on the subject, I just feel that the experience that’s going to be seen as the best lies elsewhere.
Outside of the pure sexual gratification of porn, there are a whole raft of possibilities in virtual sexual experiences. Either from a purely pleasure-based perspective or to create the (illusion of) physical and emotional closeness that many of us desire – a closeness that sex gives that’s difficult to beat!
And you can’t beat the real thing of course, but for two people unable to be physically together it’s not hard to see the possibilities. Picture two people who have a sexual relationship – one is now in Sydney, one in New York. With a little thought, you can see the potential that virtual reality could deliver to give at least some form of sexual interaction between the two (I could spell it out but I’ll just leave it to your imagination!)
Each of these have the potential for delivering a deep experience and will have their supporters, but it’s likely that the real killer will be in some form of virtual reality social interaction……
Most of us desire human contact, or as a minimum need at least some form of it. We want to be seen as liked, as interesting, as someone respected or well thought of. It’s a large part of the success of Facebook.
So it shouldn’t be lost that Facebook are one of the biggest champions of virtual reality. You think they spent 2 billion dollars buying the Oculus Rift for nothing?
Don’t be surprised to find out one day that there’s an underground bunker somewhere – perhaps next to Google’s – with the top developers all working on the detail of how a social networking VR application or experience would work best.
So the best overall? The three or four mentioned above seem to fit the most likely profile.
Others such as shopping, learning and education, adrenalin and adventure, and tourism all have appeal to broad demographic groups. Each will have its own best experience of its type.
They’re not all encompassing though, although some will meet the emotional response requirement of course.
One thing is for sure, there will already be a vast number of designers working on what they hope will become a ‘top of the list VR experience’. And when there is one, they’ll be working on the next one or an improvement on it.
The best is yet to come, as they say.
It’s a near certainty virtual reality will deliver.
PS Dad Wherever you are, if your’re reading this, it’s Cheltenham soon. Can you ride one home for me?