As virtual entertainment technology creeps further into American homes and day-to-day recreational pastimes, top vacation destinations are looking to provide the latest, greatest digital attractions to drive tourism dollars.
Vacationers, however, are no longer satisfied with virtual reality experiences that consist of a headset and moving accessories that combine to create the experiences. They demand virtual experiences that envelop the senses and provide something that living room game consoles can’t: truly virtualized reality. This is why Las Vegas, known worldwide for pushing the tourist entertainment envelope, is at the forefront of virtual attractions that delight the masses.
The Eyes Have It
With roots that stretch back to stereoscopic pictures from the 1800s, systems designed to immerse participants in virtual action have been an entertainment staple for decades. As the technology progressed, 3-D pictures, movies, and games arrived. With today’s modern smartphones, game consoles, and televisions, virtual reality has become a big business for the personal entertainment industry.
Through the use of special headsets and accessories, the participant can take a virtual tour of an interesting place that is rooted in fact or fantasy, race along the world’s toughest tracks at breakneck speeds, or bring justice to hoards of digital bad guys. Despite the visual cues, however, the participant’s body remains aware that it is comfortably seated on the couch.
What’s a Body To Do?
Early, electronic entertainment attractions involved large, clunky pieces of equipment, with some being the size of an average passenger van. For the price of admission, customers piled in and sat buckled into bucket seats. When the entertainment started, the seat compartment would lift on hydraulics, timed to buck and pitch to match the action on the virtual reality interface. While this type of entertainment immerses the body’s general senses, it has marginal visual appeal.
Putting it all Together
Modern virtual reality seeks to merge the visual and the palpable, creating systems that fool your brain into thinking it’s receiving both the visual and physical stimuli that are simulated. The price, though, can be high. Budget systems try to trick your brain through the use of your head movements, luring you into fast or slow turns on a car racing circuit, for example, with visual stimuli to complete the effect.
Pricier options can include treadmill-like systems that allow body movement and use body harnesses to provide safety, as well as offer real-time feedback that’s pertinent to enjoying the game. However, some entertainment destinations have taken another path, mostly foregoing virtual reality games for full-fledged virtual “experiences”.
“Reality” Vs. “Experience”
A virtual reality is designed to fool your brain into believing you’re experiencing a digital adventure, while a virtual experience tries to get you as close to the real thing as safety allows. Whereas virtual reality leaves some participants feeling as if they participated in a glorified video game, virtual experience is built around engaging all of the senses with real-world stimuli to create an experience that isn’t found in daily life. The difference can be dramatic.
To illustrate the difference between virtual reality and virtual experience entertainment, let’s look at a popular virtual experience from Las Vegas: The Gamers Experience. Designed for the adventurer who can’t get enough Call Of Duty™ or Battlefield™, this virtual experience puts some of the most popular FPS guns in the gamer’s hands.
Far from simply interacting with a static screen display, participants are trained to fire the Glock 17, M-4, H&K MP-5, and the ever-popular AK-47. These are real guns and real bullets that provide the sight, sound, smell, and gun recoil that participants “live through” in every gaming session. It’s a level of realism that virtual reality goggles can’t match.
The package also includes free transportation to the firing range where the action occurs. The range has trained gun handers who attend each customer who fires. There are also add-on packages for those who want to fire a hundred rounds from an M249 SAW (a popular, light machine gun in first-person shooter (FPS) games.
When contrasted with virtual reality, the difference is clear. In a virtual reality environment, you would strap on a headset similar to what you use at home, grab a control device vaguely resembling the shape of a gun, and experience a weak shaking of the gun, as small motors inside try to simulate recoil from firing. The end result is, comparatively, underwhelming. This explains why virtual experience is entertainment that vacations are increasingly built around.
Have You Ever Been Experienced?
In a market where tourists are looking for larger-than-life attractions, virtual experience attractions are fast becoming favorite Google searches for those planning vacations. People vacation partly to escape their daily reality — and when virtual reality is already a part of that reality, it loses much of its allure as a novel vacation activity.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of extravagant, virtual experiences to fill the void. As a leading entertainment destination worldwide, Las Vegas is becoming one of the best places to make virtual entertainment experiences a welcome part of your vacation itinerary.