In Ready Player One, Ernest Cline does an exceptional job of envisioning a potential VR-rich future, c. 2050 AD. His story was so strong that it influenced Michael Abrash to shift his genius to solving the challenge of delivering consumer VR in the near term. Here are some select excerpts from the book, to help you imagine the end-game of this scenario, and the VR system that enabled it:
…the rest of the room was dominated by my OASIS immersion rig. I’d invested every spare cent I had in it. Newer, faster, or more versatile components were always being released, so I was constantly spending large chunks of my meager income on upgrades.
The crown jewel in my rig was, of course, my customized OASIS console. The computer that powered my world.
I’d built it myself, piece by piece, inside a modded mirror-black Odinware sphere chassis. It had a new overclocked processor that was so fast its cycle-time bordered on pre-cognition. And the storage space to hold three digitized copies of Everything in Existence.
I spent the majority of my time in my Shaptic Technologies HC5000 fully adjustable haptic chair. It was suspended by two jointed robotic arms anchored to my apartment’s walls and ceiling. These arms could rotate the chair on all four axes, so when I was strapped in to it, the unit could flip, spin, or shake my body to create the sensation that I was falling , flying , or sitting behind the wheel of a nuclear-powered rocket sled hurtling at Mach 2 through a canyon on the fourth moon of Altair VI.
The Haptic Suit
The chair worked in conjunction with my Shaptic Bootsuit, a full-body haptic feedback suit. It covered every inch of my body from the neck down and had discreet openings so I could relieve myself without removing the entire thing. The outside of the suit was covered with an elaborate exoskeleton, a network of artificial tendons and joints that could both sense and inhibit my movements. Built into the inside of the suit was a weblike network of miniature actuators that made contact with my skin every few centimeters. These could be activated in small or large groups for the purpose of tactile simulation—to make my skin feel things that weren’t really there. They could convincingly simulate the sensation of a tap on the shoulder, a kick to the shin, or a gunshot in the chest . (Built-in safety software prevented my rig from actually causing me any physical harm, so a simulated gunshot actually felt more like a weak punch.) I had an identical backup suit hanging in the MoshWash cleaning unit in the corner of the room. These two haptic suits made up my entire wardrobe. My old street clothes were buried somewhere in the closet, collecting dust.
On my hands, I wore a pair of state-of-the-art Okagami IdleHands haptic datagloves. Special tactile feedback pads covered both palms, allowing the gloves to create the illusion that I was touching objects and surfaces that didn’t actually exist.
My visor was a brand-new pair of Dinatro RLR-7800 WrekSpex, featuring a top-of-the-line virtual retinal display
. The visor drew the OASIS directly onto my retinas, at the highest frame rate and resolution perceptible to the human eye. The real world looked washed-out and blurry by comparison. The RLR-7800 was a not-yet-available-to-the-plebian-masses prototype, but I had an endorsement deal with Dinatro, so they sent me free gear (shipped to me through a series of remailing services, which I used to maintain my anonymity).
The Sound System
My AboundSound audio system consisted of an array of ultra-thin speakers mounted on the apartment’s walls, floor, and ceiling, providing 360 degrees of perfect spatial pin -drop sound reproduction. And the Mjolnur subwoofer was powerful enough to make my back teeth vibrate.
The Smells… and Pragmatics
The Olfatrix smell tower in the corner was capable of generating over two thousand discernible odors. A rose garden, salty ocean wind, burning cordite— the tower could convincingly re-create them all. It also doubled as an industrial-strength air conditioner/ purifier, which was primarily what I used it for. A lot of jokers liked to code really horrific smells into their simulations, just to mess with people who owned smell towers, so I usually left the odor generator disabled, unless I was in a part of the OASIS where I thought being able to smell my surroundings might prove useful.
On the floor, directly underneath my suspended haptic chair, was my Okagami Runaround omnidirectional treadmill
. (“ No matter where you go, there you are” was the manufacturer’s slogan.) The treadmill was about two meters square and six centimeters thick. When it was activated, I could run at top speed in any direction and never reach the edge of the platform. If I changed direction, the treadmill would sense it, and its rolling surface would change direction to match me, always keeping my body near the center of its platform. This model was also equipped with built-in lifts and an amorphous surface, so that it could simulate walking up inclines and staircases.
An inexpensive room in an old high-rise hotel, a relic from the days when people physically traveled for business and pleasure. The rooms had all been converted into one-room efficiency apartments, and each unit had been modified to meet the very specific needs of a VR addict.
It had everything I wanted. Low rent, a high-end security system, and steady, reliable access to as much electricity as I could afford. Most important, it offered a direct fiber-optic connection to the main OASIS server vault, which was located just a few miles away.
The room itself wasn’t much to look at, which was fine, because I spent as little time looking at it as possible. It was basically a cube, about ten meters long on each side. A modular shower and toilet unit were embedded in one wall, opposite the small ergonomic kitchen.
No outside light ever penetrated my apartment. The single window had once provided a view of the Columbus skyline, but I’d spray-painted it completely black a few days after I moved in. I’d decided that everything outside the window was a distraction from my quest, so I didn’t need to waste time staring at it. I didn’t want to hear the outside world , either, but I hadn’t been able to improve upon the apartment’s existing soundproofing. So I had to live with the muffled sounds of wind and rain, and of street and air traffic. Even these could be a distraction.
I had no hair to wash, because the shower also dispensed a nontoxic hair-removing solution that I rubbed all over my face and body. This eliminated the need for me to shave or cut my hair, both hassles I didn’t need. Having smooth skin also helped make sure my haptic suit fit snugly. I looked a little freaky without any eyebrows, but I got used to it.
Once I had the suit on, I ordered the haptic chair to extend. Then I paused and spent a moment staring at my immersion rig. I’d been so proud of all this high-tech hardware when I’d first purchased it. But over the past few months, I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.
Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life, I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture–obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends , family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.
But not in the OASIS. In there, I was the great Parzival. World-famous gunter and international celebrity. People asked for my autograph. I had a fan club. Several, actually. I was recognized everywhere I went (but only when I wanted to be). I was paid to endorse products. People admired and looked up to me. I got invited to the most exclusive parties. I went to all the hippest clubs and never had to wait in line. I was a pop-culture icon, a VR rock star. And, in gunter circles, I was a legend. Nay, a god.