One of the things I love about where I live – Astoria, represent! – is that the Museum of the Moving Image is within walking distance; a couple weeks ago, I took The Wife of the Year to see the Mad Men exhibit (worth it), but on the way up the stairs we passed “Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences” – “conceived and organized” by a group called the Future of StoryTelling.
And there they were: five Oculus Rift stations.
I’ve been reading and talking about Oculus Rift for many moons, long before there was an Apple Watch. And while I set my alarm for 2:55 a.m. the day of the Apple Watch presale, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a Rift even more. When the day comes that the Rift finally goes on sale to the general public – just this week, Oculus announced it’ll be available in early 2016, with presales later this year – I’ll set my alarm again. For 2:54 a.m., or earlier, if necessary.
So of course I put my name on the two-hour waiting list for Birdly NYC, a flight simulator that gives you virtual wings and suspends you over Manhattan. It’s a brief ride – halfway through, I crashed into a building, because why not? – that employs some attention-grabbing but largely unnecessary bells and whistles like a box fan that simulates wind in your face. You mount the ride by lying flat on your stomach and control your direction and velocity by flapping your arms and twisting your hands; it doesn’t quite feel like flying – better graphics would have helped, perhaps – but it’s fun.
Before my Birdly time came, though, I grabbed a spot in line for what would be my first Oculus experience – and the second most profound.
“Evolution of Verse” by Chris Milk, according to the literature, “nods at cinematic landmarks by the Lumière Brothers and Stanley Kubrick.”
Fair enough, but to me it is simply the kind of experience – a little art gallery finesse, a little roller coaster fun, and a little tug-at-the-heartstrings finale thrown in for good measure – that the exhibit seemed to promise but didn’t usually fulfill.
You begin in the center of a lake surrounded by a forest, hovering just above the water. Eventually a train comes rushing toward you from the distance and explodes into confetti as it crashes into your face. Next, you’re flying and although you’re rooted rather firmly on your padded swivel seat, you feel the liftoff. By then, the hairs on your arms are standing up; shortly after, you’re inside a womb and there’s a baby reaching its hand out and cupping you in its palm.
As an expectant father who’s been dying to try an Oculus, this is a killer combination. How did that dust get into my eye? Don’t they clean these masks?
Two of the other stations are far less riveting – Way To Go, a funky art house video game – “a playable film” – that employs a Wii nunchuk and is pleasantly trippy but otherwise rather forgettable; and Herders, which attempts to immerse you in the lives of nomadic yak herders in Mongolia but suffers from blurry video and an Oculus device that has already seen better days.
But then there is Clouds Over Sidra. This one changed everything for me.