To experience Middle-earth
“Ladders!” Aragorn screams into the night.
My heart is pounding. I glance down at the advancing orc horde. Then close my eyes for a second and take a deep breath.
I open my eyes as the first orc comes flying towards me, perched at the top of the pivoting ladder - a lever of pain.
I draw my blade and cut him down. The slice releases my pent up tension and my shoulders relax slightly.
As I glance to my left Gimli calls out his second kill, I hear Legolas respond to my right and look over into his grinning face.
For a split second I forget the virtual reality goggles on my head, I am in Middle-earth.
As a child I remember devouring the Lord of the Rings books. I read the Hobbit and all 3 books in quick succession.
Generally the book is far better than the movie, but in this case Peter Jackson crafted the films with loving devotion to detail. The films are so good, I distinctly remember the fingernails.
In every scene of a close up of hands our heroes nails are dirty, busted, or crusted with blood.
The cinematic experience is so good that you feel like you’re there. After countless hours of reading the tales of these men, elves, and dwarves I had a mental image of them in my mind’s eye.
But after watching them on the screen, Viggo Mortenson is Aragorn, King of Gondor.
The movie allowed you to see, hear, and feel the battles for Middle-earth.
But you couldn’t interact.
Shortly after the movies the video game came out, and it was extremely well done for that time frame of video games.
You could actually be one of the characters and defend Helm’s Deep. The game allowed you to control a variety of characters, each with their own play style, weapons, strengths and weaknesses.
I sunk a lot of hours into this game
In those moments I could feel immersed into the experience, I could participate, but you’re not really there.
You're on your couch, with a controller in your hand, watching a TV across the living room floor.
When I think about virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the rise of the Metaverse, what most excites me is the pending ability to actually experience these things.
When JRR Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings, he used the available medium of the time, books, to craft a whole world that made millions of people laugh and cry. He filled my imagination with wonder and excitement.
When Peter Jackson brought the books to life on the screen it doesn’t replace the books, it adds another layer to the story. Seeing the dirty finger nails adds a realism to story.
With virtual reality it will yet again be another layer, another medium to transport us into the vivid, beautiful, scary Middle-earth.
I want that. I want to be there. I want to fight alongside Aragorn, or maybe be Aragorn, as we fight for the freedom of all men, dwarves, and elves.
That’s to me the most exciting premise of virtual reality. Not just new games, but new interactive experiences. The video game I played as a kid was fun, but it was inherently still a game. With classic game mechanics like combos, health bars, levels, etc. With virtual reality it will transcend being a game and be something else, something new.
Tourism for New Zealand for years was driven by fans compelled to go see where Lord of the Rings was filmed. They wanted to see Middle-earth for themselves, but there are no orcs or hobbits in New Zealand.
I want to fight orcs alongside my little hobbit companions. That’s what I want virtual reality for. That’s why I’ll do what I can to push the industry forward.
I want to, for a moment, lose myself in a Middle-earth so vivid my brain forgets that their just pixels in a headset. Just like I did as a child reading the books and for a moment Aragorn wasn’t just words on a page.