One theory for why people get sick from virtual reality is that the conflict of sensory information leads to all sorts of nasty effects—your eyes perceive movement, but your inner ear doesn't. Whatever the cause, individuals differ wildly in how susceptible they are. I don’t know how resistant Thorsten S. Wiedemann is to the effects of virtual reality sickness, but I hope he is, because he's about to spend two consecutive days with a Vive headset attached to his face.
Right now, Wiedemann is sitting on a couch in the Game Science Center in Berlin, wearing a virtual reality headset and noise-canceling headphones, waving one of two handheld controllers up and down like a wand. He’s dressed in a pink onesie and flip-flops, which is good. It’s important that he be comfortable—he’s only seven hours into DISCONNECTED, a performance art piece which promises to be the longest any human has ever spent in virtual reality. Wiedemann’s goal is 48 hours, which he will do without sleeping.
Wiedemann is a performance artist, experimental game designer, and founder of A-MAZE, an event company with an interest in games and interactive experiences. Wiedemann is being assisted in his ambitious bit of self-flagellation by Sara Anna Lisa Vogl, a virtual reality designer who is alsowearing a pink onesie. In addition to handling the technical side of DISCONNECTED, Vogl has created a number of scenarios for Wiedemann to play through. She is, in their own terms, his “VRShaman.”
Wiedemann may be disconnected from our reality, but he’s been kind enough to include us in his. Behind him is a projection of what he’s seeing at any given moment—as I’m watching, he’s blasting a couple desert buggies in a game called Hover Junkers. The game’s shotgun tracks his hand movements, pointing wherever Wiedemann steers the wand, animated as if by telekinesis. I wonder if, once you get used to all the physical discomforts of remaining in virtual reality for an extended period of time, you start to miss something as simple as seeing your own arms.
What will happen to Wiedemann as his challenge continues? We honestly don’t know. Maybe vomiting, potentially passing out. Perhaps he’ll have some sort of divine inspiration. So far, Wiedemann seems relatively unaffected. He’s even still moving with a spritely sharpness, though I predict that quality has its hours numbered. If you’re interested, feel free to keep up with his progress yourself.