My second VR experience was a sobering one. This time I was ushered into a room with a circle of chairs and settled in with nine other people. We are kitted up with our goggles and headphones and then all of a sudden, I am in a solitary confinement cell. Bed, toilet, shelf, door, blank painted walls, a heavy door with a clouded window. As I move my gaze around the room, objects light up and fragments of audio interviews of people talking about their experiences play.
A letter on the bed and I hear someone writing to their loved one, books on the shelf and I hear how a thick book is the greatest prize. Words appear on the walls, giving me statistics and information about the psychological effects of depriving a person of human contact, for a day, a month, for five years. I hear a man talking about how he would feel like he was floating and then the floor recedes and I am floating up by the ceiling. As I hear more about the sense of dislocation from the world, the paranoia and disconnection, parts of the room blur, lines appear on the walls, the room spins.
Unlike The Turning Forest where the effect of the VR is to immerse you in the sublime, here it is a technique to help you better understand the inequities of the world. Being in the confined space and moving around it without volition is the most powerful aspect of it although I could never lose my awareness that I was actually safe in a chair.