Home – A VR Spacewalk
Year of production: 2017
Home – A VR Spacewalk is an experience made by BBC that simulates the feeling of being an astronaut conducting a potential repair on the International Space Station. First released in 2017, Home lets the user experience a training simulation based on actual NASA training programs and real life astronaut experiences. Although the experience begins as what seems to be an educational experience about what it is like to be an astronaut conducting a repair, it ends in the high-thrill sequence of a terrifyingly disorienting unexpected emergency.
Home starts the user off sitting in an air lock waiting to exit the space station. While inside the airlock, the user is oriented with their hands and their ability to grasp railings. Despite being able to physically collide with floating objects, the user’s projected hands clip through surroundings. Furthermore, the user is not able to grab all things, including floating objects. It broke immersion to be able to solely grab certain railings. At times, I found myself reaching for and failing to grab railings because they were not the specific railing I needed to grab. Another thing that was disorienting was then, when grabbing a railing, the projected hand was not always consistently holding the railing. This made it hard to tell whether I had actually anchored onto something or if I should keep reaching further.
When working properly, movement seemed very fluid and it was easy to forget that I was not actually an astronaut exploring the surface of the International Space Station. However, this was only the case when moving in the direction that the experience wanted me to move in. Home has a very linear experience. Although you embody a character and your actions are reflected in the experience’s avatar, you are still limited by some constraints. One example was grabbing specific railings. Another is that movement proceeds in a single direction. Although you can look around, you are restricted by the confines of the astronaut helmet. You can’t actually turn your body on command. Furthermore, once moving along a railing, you can’t double back and explore other parts of the International Space Station.
Home was very immersive and exciting as long as my interests were aligned with the experience’s goals. If I felt inspired by any sudden sparks of curiosity to explore more than what was directly in front of me or along the path of yellow railings, I was immediately reminded of the experience’s limitations. Whether it be the clunky and sometimes bugged grabbing controls or the inability to go where I wanted to go, there were many times that I was knocked out of the immersion.
Lastly, the experience’s final sequence has the user wildly spinning away as the railing they were holding was blasted by space debris. This was an unexpected part of Home that let me feeling nauseous. However, it was exciting to feel some sense of danger and the spinning was indeed disorienting, as was likely intended. After spinning around for a while, there is a gamified sequence of trying to return to the airlock with jet-like controls. Unfortunately, by then I was already feeling nauseated and I wanted to be done with the experience. Despite being unsuccessful in that part, as a user, I felt no incentive to redo the whole experience just to see if I could successfully make it to the air lock.
As a whole, Home was a great experience to let the average person feel what it is like to be in space. Although weakened by the bugged controls and linear play, a user can still be immersed as long as they are trying to follow the experience’s story.