Adventures are brilliant. Think we can all agree on that. Think we can stand here and say with some degree of certainty that if you got all the Mpora readers in a room together and said “Who here likes going on adventures?”, you’d have a lot of people sticking their hands in the air and saying “Yeah, love an adventure me. Bloody love ‘em, I do. Bloody love ‘em.”
You know what’s not brilliant though? Time. Time, and a total lack thereof. Where’s all that time going, hey? Not enough time for adventures. Never enough time. Surprised you’ve even got time to sit there reading this, to be honest (please don’t stop). Yes, time. We all need more time. Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock. Time. We need more of it. More time, please.
One potential solution for the time problem, in this 21st century that we find ourselves living in, is virtual reality. With virtual reality, you don’t need to spend your precious time going to a place for an adventure. Instead, you can just stick on a headset and let the magic of technology transport you there instantaneously. Well, that’s the theory at least. In reality, of course, we’re quite a way off from a Ready Player One existence where we all live our best, most adventurous, lives through the medium of VR.
To see how close we are to a scenario that’s straight out of science-fiction, I headed down to Zip Now near London’s Waterloo to test out what’s been dubbed “The world’s first augmented reality zipline.”
An augmented reality zipline effectively boils down to this. Physically, I would be on the longest, fastest, city-based zip wire in the world (at Zip Now, London). Visually, however, I would be immersed in the sights of Jebel Jais; the highest mountain in the United Arab Emirates, and home to the world’s longest zipline full stop. An experience, wrapped in a different experience, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in an enigma. The chance to soak up adrenaline junkie thrills in the UAE’s northernmost emirate Ras Al Khaimah, without having to find my passport, pack a suitcase, and head to the airport beforehand.
"I’m basically Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049"
Rocking up at what is clearly a park in Lambeth, with astro-turf football pitches and the like, it’s hard to imagine that I’m here to be chucked into “the matrix” and sent hurtling down an enormous zip wire in Western Asia. But that’s precisely what’s about to unfold. Welcome to the future, friends. I’m basically Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 except instead of being Ryan Gosling, I’m a clinging-to-the-noughties-indie-band haircut wearing a Gareth Southgate t-shirt post-World Cup because it’s a fever that simply refuses to quit.
After a safety briefing, and a quick chat with the Zip Now and RAK representatives, we’re kitted out and sent over to the 35-metre high tower that dominates the park. Our first run is going to be outside of VR; a chance, in other words, to experience the wire without a phone screen strapped to our face. And honestly, it’s right good. Zip wires get a bad press from people who think they’re not quite gnarly enough to be “cool” but personally, I’m a big fan.
Walking down the tower’s steps to nowhere, before kicking off and rapidly accelerating up to a speed of 50km/h, I have a blast for the entirety of my 225-metre run down the wire. Just the right amount of butterflies in the stomach for a Wednesday morning, without ever veering into full on “Oh, actually the butterflies are flying piranhas in disguise” horror movie territory.
Once we’re down from the finishing platform, we’re immediately handed a nifty-looking VR headset and politely sent back to the start tower in a manner that seems to say “OK. You’ve had your analogue fun, now it’s time for digital.”
Quick word on the tower, by the way. It’s a workout getting to the top, and this is something no virtual reality headset in the world can help you with. It’s not exactly Everest but on a hot day, which let’s face it is all we seem to have nowadays, you might have a moment where you question whether you’ve shifted dimensions and ended up on a set of Penrose stairs.
Speaking of shifting dimensions, when I make it to the top and get put inside my headset world, the whole thing becomes a bit of a mind mess.
From what appears to be a video game’s recreation of a footballer’s lounge, I’m shown a floating live-feed in front of me that opens up a letterbox view of the outside world. It’s like I’m looking at my own life from the “Sunken Place” in Get Out. I feel strangely detached from what I’m seeing. Proof, perhaps, that our caveman brains are still playing catch-up with humanity’s technological evolution.
After being guided into my place at the start gate, the instructor presses various buttons on my headset; asking me what I can see, as he does so. It’s a strange feeling at this point as you’re aware there’s big drop beneath you and that you’re essentially putting your life into the hands of someone else. I can hear them making safety checks on the various clips and harnesses, but as I have no way of seeing with my own eyes what they’re doing it’s very much a trust exercise; an extreme version of that time you fell back into colleagues and hoped they’d catch you.
One final click on the headset, and I’m confronted with the view from the top of Jebel Jais. There’s a countdown on the screen. “3, 2, 1… GO!” it says.
“Can I go?” I say, to my instructor.
“If it says ‘go’, you can go” comes the reply.
I go. In the early moments I’m just relieved to find I’m still attached to the wire, and not hurtling vertically down towards the ground instead. But then, I let the VR experience kick in. Turning my head in every direction, and making the most of my fleeting moment surrounded by the views of Ras Al Khaimah, it’s obviously not as good as actually being there in real-life but as a fun alternative to that it definitely did the job.
My previous experiences with VR have always been tempered by the fact the sensations feel out of whack with each other. You might be skiing with your eyes, for example, but you’re always aware of the fact that your body and legs aren’t. It’s been like sticking my head up inside a plasma TV, rather than doing something that’s completely transportative.
The Jebel Jais Flight London Augmented Reality Experience is different. The rush of wind hitting you as you shoot down the London-based wire pairs up nicely with what you’re eyes are seeing in the Ras Al Khaimah-based headset universe. It makes the whole thing feel more three-dimensional, more authentic, more immersive.
If this is the way virtual reality is heading, then I’m all for it.
The Jebel Jais Flight London Experience is on until the 9th of September 2018
For more information on how to book it, or Zip Now in general, visit the website.
Head this way if you'd like to learn more about Ras Al Khaimah.