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How can you visit outer space without leaving your sofa?

Virtual reality is making impossible experiences feel possible

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

The human body comes pre-assembled with many built-in physical limitations, and there are places on earth that are simply too hot, too cold, or just plain too inhospitable to survive.

Thanks to technology, we can explore and experience the types of unforgiving environments that would otherwise be impossible. Take, for example, the bottom of the Mariana Trench. When explorer Victor Vescovo broke the world record in 2019 for the deepest oceanic dive at 35,853 feet below the surface, he did so thanks to millions of dollars in technology. Without it, he would have been instantly squashed by an atmospheric pressure of over 16,000 pounds per square inch. Ouch! For most of us, however, visiting this type of extreme environment is still totally out of our depth.

Today, Virtual Reality is quickly closing the gap by bringing us to places we’ve only dreamed of going, and new platforms such as Oculus Quest 2 are making VR more accessible than ever. But what allows VR to transport us from our living rooms and into entirely new worlds that not only look and sound real, but feel real as well? One successful method is shying away from total scientific accuracy and making things feel authentically human instead.

In the game Lone Echo, you play as “Jack”, a service android working in a zero gravity mining station orbiting Saturn. As most of us have never experienced the weightlessness of space, Lone Echo’s developers looked for ways to ground this unfamiliar environment in everyday actions that feel instinctual. They started by watching videos of the International Space Station, and how astronauts used their hands to move around, when inspiration hit. The game designers realized that by capitalizing on the very human gestures of a player’s own hands to control the primary form of locomotion, it allowed them to ground an otherwise impossible scenario by creating an experience that immediately feels authentic.

Now we can all get the authentic feeling of traveling to impossible environments. If only Victor Vescovo had waited a year, he could have saved himself millions of dollars and never left his living room.

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