Tech That Turns My Crank: Virtual Gaming

I’d like to welcome my friend, fellow writer, gamer and science fiction enthusiast, Vikki Romano to my blog. She’s here to talk about tech that turns her crank—Virtual Gaming. I love the idea of stepping into my game world, but until I can do it out of body, I’ll have to stay safely behind my control pad and/or keyboard. I get seasick playing first person shooters. Luckily, Vikki doesn’t. Over to her!


I’ve been gaming for a long time.  Decades really.  I was there at the advent of Pong and its lack of challenge.  I advanced to Joust and Pitfall, which at the time was high end for my crowd.  And then came the first person shooters and my life took a turn.

Wolfenstein 3D and Doom were the first games of that kind that I played and once I did, I was hooked.  It was one thing to run through an RPG or other turn based game on your handy dandy Atari 2600, but it was quite another when you could boot up Doom on your primitive PC, put on your headphones and turn off the lights to encase yourself in the game.  That, to me, was virtual gaming at the time.

Virtuality's SU 2000 Virtual Reality Gaming Pod
Virtuality’s SU 2000 Virtual Reality Gaming Pod

In 1991, I was met with a wondrous new creation called Virtuality.  It had been installed in the arcade section of the theater complex near where I lived and on any given night, there was a crowd watching some kid fumbling around while standing within a pod.  Intrigued, I waited in line, got a ticket and played.  The game was called Dactyl Nightmare and as I stood there with my visor and wired hilt controller, my life once again took a turn.

The game was moronic, to say the very least.  You stood on a strange, Escher-like platform and tried to kill your opponent, all while being chased by a dinosaur.  As a gamer, I excelled and killed off several opponents before they made me get out of the pod.  And though the game, in and of itself, was rudimentary, its media was not.

What the crowd watched on a side screen was not what the gamers experienced.  With the visor on, you were literally cut off from the outside world.  The sound in the visors was beyond stereo and tricked your eyes into thinking things were around you by virtue of good recordings.  The video playing in the 180 visor tricked the rest of your brain into thinking you were really standing on this strange platform.  The only drawback was that to move, you used the trigger on the controller, otherwise, my brain was convinced.

Some players were so convinced that they ducked or covered their heads as their opponents chased them and for me, that was part of making the game real.

Now, a whopping 24 years later, a new type of virtual reality system is finally making its way onto the home PC arena.  Virtuix Omni has put out a system that makes the Cyber pod of the 90s look like an Atari 2600 to today’s gamers.  With the same pod concept, the base is now equipped with a movement sensitive board that forces gamers to run or walk in real time if that’s what they need to do.  And to fire weapons, you fire weapons.  In order to shoot a bow, you mimic the movements of an archer.  Same goes for machine guns, bazookas or any number of modern two-handed weapons.

And the visor is again equipped with stereo, now digital as is the video, making the experience nearly realistic.  Walking through games like Skyrim, you engage with NPCs, use weapons and run through campaigns, all while working up a real sweat, and that’s something new.

Gone will be the couch surfing gamers of old, surrounded with discarded Doritos bags and soda cans.  Now gamers will be in the action, as part of the action and their movements will have to be heroic.  Or at least more heroic than waving a sword with your thumb.

As virtual gaming progresses, I can envision gamer suits, much like motion capture suits for films, which will allow players to move freely without the use of a pod.  The suits would come equipped with sensors that will ping or shock you if you get shot or stabbed, which in turn will force you to game better – A Pavlovian response where it’s needed.    It will also reduce the more urgent argument that video games are keeping kids indoors.  This at least will give them the exercise they are missing.

But for now, I’ll continue to sit and play my first person shooters with my big screen and the stereo cranked as loud as I can to try to trick my brain into thinking I’m really there, walking next to a warrior, having just killed a dragon and saved a village.  After all, a hero will always see value beyond what’s possible.


About Vikki Romano

VikkiRomanoI know it sounds cliché, but I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, in every capacity that I could manage.  From newsletters to yearbooks, journals to hard cover books.  It’s not seeing my name on a cover or any kind of admiration that does it to me, it’s getting it out.  It’s a strange phenomenon that most writers have, of having stories continually running through your mind and the nearly painful urge to get them all out before you forget them.  Not sure what the phenomenon is called, but there are days I hate that I have it.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  A double edged sword.

My love for sci-fi goes way back to my childhood.  I mean, who didn’t love movies like Tron and Terminator when they were a kid?  Or great oldies like WarGames.  I grew up in the advent of technology and rode the wave of the dot com lifestyle in my 20s.  It was a wonderful time to be alive, to see where tech could go.  Being involved in the field as a database admin and then later as a hardware tech and web designer, I had my fingers in all of it and I loved what it was all about.

In college, I was a true cyberpunk and gloried over works by Gibson and Dick.  I reveled in the hackers manifesto like a warrior and actually prayed for a world like BladeRunner.  They were very cool, hyper-energized times we were in and it gave me scores of ideas and hands-on experience to dump into my work.

Why I chose to write historicals when I went pro is beside me.  It was another love, history, and something that was big on the traditional market with movies like Braveheart scoring big at the box office.  Back then, where there was only traditional publishing available, you went where the money was if that’s what your end game was.  At the time, I wanted to write full time like the greats, but writing historicals in a saturated market does not a best seller make.  I learned that lesson the hard way.

And now, here I am, at the behest of friends and colleagues; I have begun to pen the sci fi story that has been buzzing around my brainpan for the last 20 years.  And it’s freeing, writing for the love of writing.  Not having a deadline, but holding to a promise to yourself that it’s going to get out.  Finally.

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