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Don't Look Down - How Scary Will Virtual Reality Get?

18/06/2013 14:11 BST | Updated 18/08/2013 10:12 BST

After the screams of the virtual guillotine experience went viral, a new video further reinforces the notion that, even at this early stage of consumer virtual reality, by bringing the right elements together you can completely over ride people's rationale, even enough to convince them they are walking across a thin plank straddled between the roofs of two tall skyscrapers.

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Produced for London's Digital Shoreditch Festival, the 'Virtual Vertigo Challenge' combined a purpose built Unity environment, a real plank, a Kinect, a dev kit Oculus Rift HMD and two fans.

Each volunteer was "virtually pushed" during their return journey, dropping them hundreds of feet to their digital death, sending a series of expletives echoing across Shoreditch.

Although the resolution of the dev kit Oculus Rift is low, the induced adrenaline was certainly very real. In fact, Liat Clark of Wired described it as "stomach-churning".

There are several horror titles in development for the Oculus Rift (or will be made compatible with the HMD which is due for a consumer launch next year). I recently played survival horror title 'Zombies on the Holodeck' on the device. When the zombies shuffle towards you there is an overwhelming urge to rip the rift off, as if trying to quickly wake yourself up from a lucid dream.

When the developers up the resolution (a HD prototype of the Rift was shown at E3 last week), super accurate positional tracking is added (of which the Kinect 2 will certainly offer), tactical feedback (using peripherals such as the ARAIG gaming impact vest, horror titles and scary experiences could become intense enough to give people the memories of something real.

Roller coasters are designed to terrify but most of us love them. But for some reason, virtual reality seems to be able to increase the fear factor without even steeper drops, more loops and faster acceleration rates. Perhaps it is because virtual reality will always be a more private experience - like playing Dead Space in a dark room surrounded by pizza boxes. But also because virtual reality feeds your imagination and forces a conflict in your mind. You are so highly involved with the experience due to the nature of wearing a headset. You can't just quickly look away from the screen like when playing a regular game - you are in the game.

Perhaps I am being a wimp - playing Dead Space on my 2D monitor is a strictly 'lights on' affair for me after all! But I was there when Inition hosted the Virtual Vertigo Challenge, and some people could not even physically walk across the plank.

As more creative minds get hold of this technology and start producing terrifying experiences like the finest horror directors do, human tolerance will be pushed to the edge, and it will have us lining up in our droves!

Read my interview with Sebastien 'VR Geek' Kuntz who explains why virtual reality can change the world.