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Kid Dickarus, or Birdly: I Tried A VR Bird Thing

Above: Birdly at a previous demonstration
Birdly at a previous demonstration
Above: Birdly at a previous demonstration

Last weekend, as part of Sundance Next Fest (a film festival of, I guess, whatever movie’s playing next), LA Taco was able to wrangle me a spot to try Birdly, a flying video game (the creators call it installation art, but it’s a video game), where you strap an Oculus Rift to your head, climb yourself up onto a robot boogie board with flappy wings and a fan attached to it, and pretend to fly.

Seriously, check it out (I recommend you turn the volume way up on this one).

I got to the Theater at the Ace Hotel in Downtown LA, where the Birdly demo was being held in the early afternoon, before the actual movies started. The contraption was set up on the mezzanine off the lobby, where a gang of German nerds, who I mentally named: the Cool One, the Goatee One, the Girl One, and Herr 90s were running the machine. One by one, we got in line and strapped ourselves in for a couple minutes of flying around a virtual version of New York.

My plan was to get into the demo and either fly into the sun, or crash into a building (I know, I know, too soon). When I got to my spot in line, Girl German strapped me into the board, answered my question about what would happen if I crashed with “don’t worry, you can’t” and away I went.

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The flying is… fine. The thing tilts you around, and there’s a surprisingly strong fan blowing on your face that makes the illusion a little better, but it’s also really, really hard to forget you have a computer strapped to your face. But as I was flapping around, bonking into skyscrapers, not quite able to crash, I started wondering what the actual next steps for Virtual Reality.

1) Look Into Fixing The Real Reality Problem - Look, little tiny computers and small monitors are going to make it so we eventually things will start to look and feel like close enough to real life that your brain will be completely fooled. Great. But right now, the main problem with Virtual Reality is that we still have to occupy the Real Reality (RR), and it’s hard to shake how much you look like a dork in RR. Even in The Matrix, the real reason everyone was all upset was that they knew, deep in their hearts, even if they were the best leather-fetish murderers in the Matrix, they were still some bald-ass pale dorks floating in amniotic fluid in the RR.

2) Who’s Going To Program All The Gross Stuff? - The nice German folks who made Birdly spent tons and tons of time writing code, designing some flight algorithms, cutting plywood into wing shapes, put in tons of hard work into something that’s, like, pretty close to flying. Everyone loves flying. But at some point, some poor sucker is going to have to be the person whose life work is perfectly programming the VR version of taking a dump. Or getting stabbed. Or getting stabbed and then shitting your pants. Can’t all be flight simulators and sexbots, nerds! Also: almost by definition, the person who’s most enthusiastic about making any of the above happen is basically by definition the last person who should be doing it.

3) At Least One Of You Start Being Really Nice To The Robots - Although, the more I think about it, any fears of conscious robots rising up in a murderous rebellion is probably the height of applying People Logic to robots. I mean, sure, in one sense, we’re technically enslaving them right now, but on the other hand, it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that robots are going to give a shit about us riding them around like pack animals for pleasure. I mean, who knows, maybe they won’t care.

Anyway, I would recommend that you go check out Birdly the Bird Simulator, but anyone who would be interested in that sort of thing definitely already has, and even more definitely wouldn’t take my word for it either way. Everyone else, wait until they build at least a big-ole laser gun into it.

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