At GDC this year, Epic Games had a VR Lounge where they were showing off 10 different VR experiences that used the Unreal Engine. One of those experiences was Create VR’s The Walk VR Experience, where you can walk across a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers just as Philippe Petit did in 1974. This was created as Sony Pictures’ first VR experience to promote their film The Walk, which was released last September. I had a chance to talk with Jake Black, the Head of VR at Create Advertising, about The Walk VR experience, how it triggers the primal parts of fear in our brain, and how he reacted to it considering his fear of heights.
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From a VR design perspective, this Walk experience brings up a really interesting tension between your primal brain and your rational brain. Evoking a sense of danger and fear within a virtual reality experience can be an indicator of presence, but if you’re too successful at creating this tension then the user’s rational brain may override the primal panic mechanisms and create a dissonance that breaks presence.
It’s a fine balance to successfully cultivate and preserve presence in these types of situations, and it’s interesting to hear Jake’s anecdotal results that about a quarter of the people don’t end up even trying to walk on the virtual wire in the demos that he’s seen. That means that about three quarters of the people felt safe enough to walk the walk, but it’s entirely possible that the people who didn’t walk may have had an overall more immersive VR experience. The way to measure this could by administering presence surveys to the subjects such as the Slater, Usoh & Steed (SUS) Questionaire or the Witmer & Singer (WS) Questionaire.
Here’s a promotional trailer for the experience, which interestingly enough debuted on the Sony PlayStation VR. The version at GDC was shown on the Vive:
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Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio