I noticed something surprising recently, that in the current climate, OTHERWORLD (the VR destination pioneers) are hiring! But then again maybe it’s not that surprising given the way the wind is blowing.

OTHERWORLD is one of a fast-growing number of operators offering what can loosely be termed as Hyper Reality VR experiences.

These are social experiences in which groups don VR gear, augmented with haptic feedback devices and external enhancements – think air-fans to emulate wind and heat sources to give the impression of entering a hot climate (oh for that moment the plane doors open and you step out into the tropical sunlight!) – Or any other virtual world scenarios you may care to imagine.

There is nothing new in this concept – obvious comparisons such as Star-Trek holodeck come readily to mind.

What is new is that this technology is beginning to become tangible.

What could this mean for museum collections and for how we the public access and experience them?

Years ago, I had the privilege of working at the British Museum. On my first day (and, if I may add, after a long and arduous series of security checks) I was entrusted with a set of keys that provided access to the hidden corridors and subterranean levels that lie below the museum.

Tales circulated among the staff, myths and legends, of hidden rooms and levels (mothballed tube stations!) far below the museum’s public spaces, where who knows what ancient treasures lay forgotten!

One of the greatest joys of the job was the opportunity it afforded to walk the galleries after hours when the crowds had dispersed. What a disappointment and distraction to visit a museum, only to have your moment of encounter with a unique, precious and wondrous artefact stripped of all its power and significance as you become engulfed in a madding crowd jostling for position. So, what a revelation to be allowed to experience a reflective moment alone with any one of the many thousands of extraordinary and enigmatic artefacts on display.

All this has got me thinking about using hyper-reality to interpret and access real world artefacts, traversing a virtual world, picking up knowledge and appreciation of the artefacts’ significance and context as you progress, with the ultimate pay-off being a real world reveal of that object made even more powerful by the virtual journey that the visitors have taken to access it.

In much the same way that hyper-reality invites users to experience strange and wonderful virtual worlds, let us remember that museums, or more precisely the objects that they contain, are portals into other worlds, worlds in which fact is very often stranger than fiction!



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