I could tell she was cheating. The tail was directly on the donkey’s butt, and no blindfolded five-year-old could achieve that.
As the other kids at the party waited their turn behind my daughter, I looked at the scarf that was clearly not helping obscure her vision.
“I have an idea,” I said. “Hold on.” I ran out of the room, and came back holding my Domain7-branded Google Cardboard package. I quickly opened Google StreetView, found an environment of an underwater ocean scene, strapped it on my daughter’s head, and we resumed the game.
Now true disorientation was achieved. She couldn’t possibly see the donkey in front of her when she was immersed in the underwater world of a coral reef. Sure enough, kid after kid went inside the goggles, performing suitably terribly at Pin-the-Tail on the Donkey.
And then the questions started. Fellow five-year-old’s at my daughter’s party clamouring to understand what they’d just seen. “What was that?” “Can I try that again?”
And from the parents, too, curious what this strange headset was that had their kids so entranced. “Did you make that?” (No, definitely not!) “Is that expensive?” (You can order one for about $20 bucks, and use free apps from your phone with it.)
I turned on my TV and switched my phone to AirPlay mode, so the screen was mirrored for all to see. Now the whole room could experience what the kids were seeing inside the headset. I grabbed a piece of construction paper and wrote a list of names so we could take proper turns. One by one, the kindergarteners would make requests of places to visit, and they’d be instantly transported.
“Where should I go, mommy?” asked my daughter’s friend Isabelle.
“Let’s go see my hometown in Germany!” her mom said.
They gave me the address and I punched it in. The headset went on.
I could see the cobblestone roads and the old houses in the stereoscopic image on the the TV. Inside the headset, almost as if she was there, Isabelle turned her whole body around and around and around. She looked down at her feet. Up to the sky. Her mom took her by the shoulders, orienting her towards a grassy area.
“Over there honey,” she said. “That’s where grandpa is buried, where we visited last year.”
Her mom glanced up at me at shook her head in disbelief that this was happening.
One after another, kid-and-parent gave requests for places to visit. We found a beach. A childhood home in Portland, Oregon. We climbed a mountain.
This is a magic box.
My daughter has no words for it. We’ll play sometime in the evenings, when it’s not a school night.
“Can I try that thing again where you’re there but you’re not there?” she’ll ask.
“Where the picture is right in front of you but it’s not?”
She’ll crawl and walk and step around the house with the mask on, convinced her own motion propels the image forward. We’ve visited dinosaur museums and hockey stadiums. We’ve been hit by a train, we’ve been inside a womb. I’ve had to hold her hand tight as sound and video completely surround her (“Stay close, daddy!”) with such a realistic sensation her tiny mind and body believes it’s actually happening.
Yet this magic box is just a prototype, really. Only as powerful as my phone is. Not really possessing much in the way of controlling it with your voice, like future platforms will. Not letting you interact socially with others, as future ones will. Not showing your own avatar in real-time, like others platforms…already do.