Last week two colleagues and I headed off to the National Trust to see their latest exhibition Virtually There. I particularly wanted to check out the Virtual Reality simulations of Old Melbourne Gaol and Rippon Lea.
We were led into a room full of all the things you would expect, antiques, creepy oil paintings of children and dolls. And in the middle of the room, two egg chairs flanked by two young lads holding VR headsets.
The first simulation I tried was Old Melbourne Gaol. I found myself standing outside a cell, looking down the heart of the jail. There a blue dots, well, dotted about the simulation and you quickly figure out that to move, you need to align your sight line with one. Woosh, you are moved forward. It takes some time to adjust, going up stairs I felt slightly dizzy and at times a bit nauseous. The sensation of moving through a wall is ethereal and very weird.
As an early adopter, I feel obliged to be excited by the possibilities of VR. It feels like the Commodore 64 of my god children’s generation. The technology they will look back on with the same nostalgia 70’s babies do games like Night Driver.
Still, using the headsets is not without frustrations. Wearing glasses is next to impossible, they fog up, the headset fogs ups. You can’t see anything anyway. I took my glasses off, which meant I could make out all the architecture but when it came time to reading signs there was no joy. I guess this answered one of my questions about using this technology for archival access. There is still some way to go.