At the Idaho VR Council we spend a great deal of time out-and-about in the community introducing people of all ages to virtual reality. Many of the events we participate in are focused on STEM education and demonstrating how VR can be used across various industries outside of gaming, but every once in a while we get an opportunity to do something a bit out of the ordinary. The Discovery Center's most recent Adult Night dubbed the 'Science of Fear', was one such event.
The IVRC along with several other vendors like Boise Escape, Relyea Funeral Chapel, and the Idaho State Police joined the Discovery center to explore what makes people afraid. We decided to see just how scared attendees would get inside Richie's Plank Experience. The 'Plank' as we like to call it, tests peoples fear of heights by taking them up dozens of stories via elevator which opens up to reveal a plank that players are supposed to walk out onto. If walking the plank isn't terrifying enough, players are encouraged to step off and plummet to the street below.
The monitor was hidden so those in line couldn't see what the person in the VR headset was experiencing. As a result many attendees had no clue what to expect. Some thought there were spiders and others correctly guessed the experience would force them to face their fear of heights. However, even those that guessed correctly had no idea exactly how the Plank would recreate the fear that only staring down from high in the air can illicit. Pretty much everyone who had the chance to walk the Plank completely underestimated just how intense the experience would be. About a half dozen people ripped the VR headset off right after the elevator doors opened to reveal the wooden plank extended out over the street below. Others made it onto the plank and then were too terrified to step off the edge. As a person who has put thousands of people in VR experiences it was interesting to not only watch the players, but also to notice that the Plank causes most people to behave the same way while in the VR environment. For example, everyone picks their feet up like they are stepping over a small threshold while making their way onto the plank, and everyone that is brave enough to step off the plank sways and shakes in the brief instance before they hit the street.
What is perhaps most fascinating is the mind body connection almost being completely severed for people in the Plank experience. Many people talk to themselves aloud and say, "I know the real floor is right underneath my feet, but my mind keeps telling me not to take another step, or to jump off the side." At the end of the night we didn't get to the bottom of what makes people afraid, but there were plenty of sweaty palms and foreheads to prove that Richie's Plank can be pretty scary. Thanks for putting on such a fun event Discovery Center!
On a side note, the Discovery Center just opened the Mythbusters Explosive Exhibition which not only showcases a number of Mythbusters inspired activities, but also the largest collection of Mythbusters props and memorabilia. Make sure to take the family over and check this awesome exhibition out.