There was a period in the early 2000s when my daughter wanted nothing more than to play simulation games on a video console. Several times I spent the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries on games called Second Life or Sim City, which my progeny would play for hours at a time, sitting cross-legged on the loungeroom floor.
Occasionally I’d watch, bemused, as my daughter played god, moving low-resolution avatars around shopping malls and bedrooms. A silly distraction, I thought, grateful that I grew up in an era where play meant sticks and stones and trees and mud. I’m one of the lucky ones that didn’t spend a single day of my life toggling controllers, eyes glued to some databased virtual nonsense.
Up to now, that is. This week I ‘attended’ my first virtual reality conference, which meant, quite improbably, that I was the one playing god with a computerised victim, walking around a make-believe auditorium and bumping into walls.
The experience was disconcerting to say the least. Given there was no sit function for the pseudo-me, I found myself watching myself standing awkwardly among a host of other pseudo-people, none of us knowing what to say. We milled around the foyer of an auditorium, literally shuffling our virtual feet and wondering what to do with our holographic hands.
Out of nowhere, a chatbox came up. Hurrah! One of my fellow holograms was actually an ex-colleague. We bonded over the strangeness of it all.
After a while I clicked onto a screen and ‘attended’ a session, which I gathered from the playback function was pre-recorded. It may lack the theatrics of an amphitheatre, but, sitting in the comfort of my office, I couldn’t help but marvel at the convenience.
Unfortunately, when I came out of the seminar I found myself in the foyer again, this time literally standing inside another person. Apologising in real life, I reversed my avatar out of a compliance manager from North Sydney named Greg and scurried away to stick my fake face into the nearest wall.
After my shame subsided I turned around and found my way into the trade hall. This, I thought, could be genuinely disappointing. It’s going to be tough to clinch any decent merchandise in a world that doesn’t technically exist. Perhaps I’d find a couple of bitcoins on the floor.
Alas, no one has misplaced their crypto-currency. However, I did spark up a conversation with a friendly BDM from a platform provider. I also accidentally gave my email to a boutique fund manager, committed to an ETF training course and signed up to a new gym.
I may not have walked away with a branded stress ball, but I made a lot of friends.
The best was yet to come, however. After feeling like I’d overextended myself in the trade hall I decided to leave the virtual conference and prepare for my next client meeting, so I deleted the conference tab on my computer and opened the client file in Xplan.
And just like that, I was in the real world again. No goodbye’s, no walking around and getting lost, no traversing back to the office.
The virtual world may be weird, but it couldn’t be beaten for convenience. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun. Maybe my daughter was onto something after all.