One Man’s Endless Hunt for a Dopamine Rush in Virtual Reality

One Man’s Endless Hunt for a Dopamine Rush in Virtual Reality


On a modern Thursday night at the Metropolis Lifetime Local community Center in Missoula, Mont., Wolf Heffelfinger performed laser tag.

Putting on a pair of significant goggles, he bobbed throughout the gymnasium, firing fake laser guns with the two arms. It was not all that distinct from any other video game of laser tag — besides he was participating in in digital fact.

As he and a close friend raced all-around the health and fitness center, he noticed himself sprinting down the neon-lit corridors of a spacecraft. So did his mate. With digital fact goggles strapped in excess of their eyes, they could not see each other. But they could chase each individual other in an imaginary environment.

For Mr. Heffelfinger, a 48-calendar year-old musician, entrepreneur and absolutely free spirit, the match was an additional action in a ten years-lengthy obsession with digital reality. Since the arrival of the seminal Oculus headset in 2013, he has played video games in virtual truth, watched videos, frequented distant lands and assumed new identifies.

He sees his virtual adventures as a relentless research for the dopamine rush that arrives when the technological know-how normally takes him somewhere new. When he reaches the edge of what the technological innovation can do, the hurry wanes. He has set his quite a few headsets on the shelf, in which they have sat for months. But when improvements get there, he leaps back again in.

Mr. Heffelfinger’s on-and-off preoccupation synchronizes with the tech industry’s on-and-off affair with virtual reality, investing billions in a concept that has for numerous years appeared just a handful of actions from going mainstream without having really acquiring there.

“I want it to be aspect of my daily life, and I often consider it will be,” Mr. Heffelfinger explained. “But the desire normally finishes.”

As Mr. Heffelfinger geared up for his video game of laser tag in the Missoula group centre, a team of young adults were actively playing paintball just one floor down below. It was mostly the identical match: goggles, faux guns and pursuit all around a health and fitness center. But the youngsters remained in the authentic planet.

When asked why he did not just signal up for a activity of previous-fashioned paintball, Mr. Heffelfinger explained enjoying in a globe of science fiction designed all the distinction. He liked getting taken away. “I can enter the motion picture,” he stated.

He could even be a distinctive person. As he and his mate, John Brownell, booted up the game, termed Area Pirate Arena, Mr. Heffelfinger selected a massive, beefy, ostentatiously masculine avatar dressed in camouflage. Mr. Brownell selected 1 that seemed a good deal like the actress Angelina Jolie. Mr. Heffelfinger imagined himself in a dystopian entire world.

“An episode of ‘Black Mirror’ flashed by way of my mind, where by these two fellas fall in really like with every single other in VR by deciding on diverse avatars,” he explained, referring to a science fiction collection on Netflix. “I don’t assume he recognized the influence this experienced on me.”

Mr. Heffelfinger craves something known as lucid dreaming. He when built a shorter movie about the elusive phenomenon wherever goals are knowledgeable with finish consciousness — a little bit like the enormously specific, completely convincing dreams in Hollywood movies like “Inception” and “Vanilla Sky.”

When he found digital reality, he realized it provided the exact experience. “After a though, your brain plays a trick on you,” he reported. “You believe you are seriously there.”

He initially tried using the Oculus at an place of work bash when it was just a check package for computer software builders and instantly purchased a single of his individual. The ordeals were being brief, straightforward and cartoonlike: a vacation to the leading of a skyscraper or a flight in a house capsule. But right after Fb acquired the start-up that pioneered the headset and pumped thousands and thousands of pounds into the technologies, other corporations followed fit, and the choices expanded.

Mr. Heffelfinger visited Egyptian pyramids. He viewed Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Place Odyssey” in virtual fact even though suspended in a float tank. He took a regional police detective by way of a virtual recreation of Missoula, stitched alongside one another from high-definition shots, and they arrived to see the know-how as a way of investigating a criminal offense scene with no being there. Sometimes, on cloudy Montana times, he would disappear into digital reality just to see the sun.

“The mother nature of these fantasy worlds is that they feed dopamine into the reward pathways of our brains,” said Anna Lembke, a Stanford University psychiatrist and the author of “Dopamine Country,” an exploration of dependancy in the fashionable globe. “They carry the prospective for addiction.”

But as with other addictions, tolerances are formulated. Achieving the dopamine high receives more durable.

Mr. Heffelfinger grew weary of just about every new headset. The ordeals ended up repetitive. He could not shift as freely as he would like. He could not actually hook up with other individuals. Digital actuality could not quite match the vitality of the real planet, and from time to time it built him sick.

He turned a person headset into a plant holder and yet another into a piece of neckwear he wore on walks by the Montana mountains. “It turns out that a wander outside the house is much a lot more enjoyment,” he explained.

But he generally acquired a further pair of goggles. Sometimes, he used hundreds of bucks on headsets for buddies, hoping they would sign up for him in virtual actuality. When the coronavirus pandemic strike, he observed the engineering as an perfect antidote to quarantine, and for a time, it was. He could mingle with close friends and strangers in an ethereal gathering place identified as AltspaceVR.

He frequented a digital recreation of Burning Person, the annual bohemian artwork competition, with a feminine mate. As they strolled via the desert campsites, among the the art installations, sculptures, and souped-up cars and vans, Mr. Heffelfinger obtained the uneasy feeling that he, a married male, was on a day with somebody who was not his wife.

“We’d hung out a million occasions in genuine everyday living, and it never felt like a date,” he claimed. “She makes herself a lot prettier in VR.”

Later on, he informed his wife what experienced occurred, and as a way of making amends, he purchased her a headset and invited her into virtual truth. As they walked into a digital cocktail bar, he listened to the voice of the female he had taken to Burning Gentleman, and she approached them from throughout the room.

“Can we not go any where with out one of your women demonstrating up?” his spouse claimed, ahead of her avatar retreated into the length and went limp. She experienced taken off her headset.

It was a bizarre and unanticipated blend of the serious and the digital. In the previous, the a few of them had used time alongside one another in the authentic environment. He understood that would not come about again.

Mr. Heffelfinger soon set his headset away. His Oculus sat in a eco-friendly bin on prime of his sauna. But then, a few months later on, he stumbled onto a online video about Space Pirate Arena.

“I was disgusted with VR,” he reported. “But now I’m again.”

He will probably get bored again. Like numerous people who use the technological innovation, he thinks quite a few extra a long time will pass before it will become an unshakable aspect of daily existence. And he admits that, no make any difference how good the technology will get, he is cautious of spending also considerably time there.

“I like heading into digital reality,” he claimed. “But I always want to appear out.”



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Posted by Krin Rodriquez

Passionate for technology and social media, ex Silicon Valley insider.