Taking a Stroll Through Virtual Reality

At one point this summer I went through a stretch where it seemed like almost every movie I saw involved some aspect of virtual reality (“VR”). It was like, “GAMER and SURROGATES and AVATAR, Oh My!” In the movie GAMER video game players can control real prisoners in a violent urban warfare game setting. SURROGATES is a sci-fi flick set in a futuristic world in which humans hibernate at home while living their lives vicariously through robot surrogates. And as if I have to explain, AVATAR revolves around a paraplegic Marine who via avatar becomes a fully able-bodied undercover Na’vi. In each movie VR technology allowed people to do things they can’t do with their own bodies in real life.

The desire to utilize this kind of VR technology to get a shot at doing able-bodied things again is something that I have fantasized about for years. Right around the time Dolly the sheep was cloned I started kicking around the prospect of living vicariously through Shawny the me clone. But VR would be a much more practical and accessible way for me to take a long overdue break from the wheelchair quad life and to take Shawn 2.0 out and about the way I was supposed to until fate intervened.

Given the opportunity to become able-bodied via VR I probably wouldn’t do the extravagant/celebratory things, a la the aforementioned movies, that people might think though. Because when you live my lifestyle you get robbed of a lot of routine things that everyone else takes for granted. Therefore, I would be much more prone to doing the following things that I’ve been shut out of for years:

Give my family a hug: For over fourteen years I have been unable to give my parents and sister a proper full hug, and it’s left a big void. They’ve been through a lot on my SCI adventure and they deserve a big one. Also, having my face breast height is great when hugging a buxom beauty, not so much when it’s my mom or sister.

Play with my niece and nephew: By and large I already covered this topic in my post about being an uncle with SCI, so I’ll refer readers to that. But it is noteworthy to add that almost six months have passed since then and both my niece (2 ½ y.o.) and nephew (3 ½) have gotten much more active, and it seems like the older they get the harder it is to not have that “normal” level of interaction with them.

virutal reality disabilityGo for a swim: Once a swimmer always a swimmer. Throughout my life I needed minimal incentive to hit the water, which incidentally is largely responsible for my paralyzing diving accident at a beach. So the desire to dive into the water and feel that instant full body cool and relaxing feeling is still constant. That rings especially true when I’m sitting in the yard at my parent’s cabin on a hot, sunny, 85 degree summer day and staring out at the lake water that is just screaming for me to jump in and cool off. Pure torture.

Go on a road trip: Right at the top of my list of things to do if I ever regained all of my physical faculties would be to go on a lengthy solo road trip. Standing in the way of that now are the facts that I can’t stay in hotels, etc. independently and I can’t pump my own gas. Consequently, unless I have help on the other end with gas, my solo trips are restricted to one tank’s worth roundtrip (4-6 hours total) and/or someone has to stay overnight with me. Getting my independent kicks on Route 66 in a sporty ride with a stick shift would rock.

Take a real shower: I shower by sitting on a rolling shower chair and I use a removable showerhead that’s attached to the wall at about my chest level so I can reach it. The result is that the only time the water runs over my upper body is when I’m rinsing myself off; otherwise it just shoots towards the floor. Thus my showers can be quite chilly, especially during the winter. Given the opportunity to bathe in a quadruple showerhead steam shower like I’ve seen on MTV “Cribs,” I would probably stand there with the warm water cascading down my whole body for a solid hour straight.

Get in and out of bed easily: I miss the days of simply dropping my clothes and sliding under the covers at bedtime. From the time that I start my go to bed routine until I turn the lights out after I’m all situated in bed an average of twenty minutes goes by. That can be a challenge when I’m sick or really tired. As I alluded to in my PCA post, getting up in the morning is no piece of cake either. Simply throwing off the covers and swinging my legs over the side of the bed would be awesome.

Workout: I covered this in another post too, but it’s worth reiterating here how much I’d relish the opportunity to hit the weights under normal circumstances and/or do anything that involves a full body workout.

Go shopping without restrictions: Whenever I go shopping by myself I’m limited in how much I can get. Using a shopping cart is out so I have to use a lap basket instead, which limits me to about two bags worth of goods. Adding an extra challenge is that most Minneapolis area grocery stores don’t bag your groceries either. Shopping for as much as I want wherever I want to would be nice.

Get on equal footing (pun certainly intended) with women: Selfishly, this is one of the biggest reasons I’d like to utilize VR because dating with a disability is really tough. A guy that is a combination of intelligent, fun, great sense of humor, good looking, hard working, self-motivating, a good family member, a great friend, thoughtful, patient, understanding, passionate, healthy, respectful, stable projected career tract (attorney), etc. is the kind of can’t miss great catch that most women fall all over each other trying to land. Yet despite those prime relationship “qualifications” I’ve been mostly single since 1998. Granted, that’s for a handful of reasons, but not getting a fair shake from women on account of my disability is the biggest ongoing one. Having many women look at my wheelchair then dismissively away without further interest (which is like rejecting a potentially great gift because you don’t like the wrapping paper) often feels unfair. Receiving more sympathetic “no thanks” smiles than “come hither” ones is frustrating, and frequently playing the part of the really fun, nice/sweet guy friend who doesn’t get a decent shot at more of a relationship gets old. Shawn 2.0 would have a lot more fun and success finding “the one” on the dating scene.

So if all the super tech nerds at Microsoft, Sony, et al could get cracking on developing the kind of virtual reality technology I’ve been seeing in movies lately I would greatly appreciate it, because Shawn 2.0 is more than ready to launch. In fact, put it right at the top of my Christmas wish list.

AttributionPhoto Credit: habaneros

1 reply
  1. Bryanne Freitag
    Bryanne Freitag says:

    Usually virtual reality is all about extravagance…the more “out there” the better. I like how you focus on the simpler things in life….the things that many people too often take for granted!

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