Virtual Scares, Real Terror

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When you think of American culture, it might conjure images of apple pie, barbecues, or displacing native populations. One often overlooked aspect of the American experience is Halloween. No other country celebrates this holiday quite the way we do.

Halloween is all about the parties, costumes, candy, and most importantly, scares. What makes Halloween such a fun holiday is that it gives us a time of year to celebrate all things spooky and creepy. It gives us an excuse to scare ourselves and each other in an atmosphere of frivolity and mischief.

It should come as a surprise to no one that Halloween and tech go hand-in-hand. Both work together to fulfill one purpose: to create better and better scares. Virtual reality in particular is being used more and more as a tool to create better scares. In case you were born under a rock, virtual reality is a way to create artificial environments or experiences, usually using computers and peripherals like headsets. Computers create an environment which is then streamed to a headset or headpiece. Many VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, are outfitted with gyroscopic mapping, meaning turning your head while wearing the device will cause the appropriate reaction in the computer-generated environment.

This is almost a perfect tool for the hardcore Halloweenie. One of the iconic images of the holiday is the Haunted House attraction, which is a real world simulation of a scary environment. Traditionally, most of these Haunted Houses are run via a combination of audio-animatronics, elaborate set pieces, and hired actors and actresses. VR can be used to create all of these aspects, and entertainment venues have taken note.

Universal Studios, for example, launched an attraction for the Halloween season that combines the traditional haunting experience with new twists via virtual reality. The attraction, dubbed “The Repository,” brings its patrons to a room outfitted to look scary, with a simple task: to find a key. The rest of the experience combines old fashioned scaring techniques and is supplemented by newer VR tricks. Using a headset, the haunted room is transformed into a library and graveyard. One of the more interesting uses of the device is that when the VR headsets are slipped on, the actors of the attraction are digitally mapped in real time, appearing as ghosts through the eyes of the wearer.

Great America, a theme park in Santa Clara, is using a completely virtual experience this Halloween. Guests are strapped into chairs in a room that resembles a hospital. A VR headset is placed over them, and from that point on the scares are completely virtual. In a nearby Six Flags, VR headsets have been retrofitted onto a roller coaster to turn the ride into a haunted attraction. Instead of simply speeding along a track, patrons are treated to a demon fighting experience.

Virtual reality is also being used to preserve classic Halloween traditiona. Coney Island’s Spook-o-Rama is a classic “dark ride.” In a dark ride, people are put in a cart and go along a fixed track. In this case, the rise hasn’t added anything VR related. Instead, the actual ride has been captured for a VR experience. A dark ride enthusiast Joel Zika captured the experience of the ride and has created a virtual ride. It’s no longer necessary to go right to the attraction to get scared; you can now go on the ride right at home.

Halloween is a perfect time to show off new technology because the holiday invites innovation. As long as there are people looking for a good scare, VR will help bring it to them.