Virtual reality bites: Seven virtual experiences rated against the real thing

Zoom can bring quarantined families together during the coronavirus pandemic — with the added convenience of a mute button. (Dreamstime/Tribune News Service)

We may not get out much in real life anymore — but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh out loud at virtual reality laughably trying to re-create real-life experiences.

It’s just not the same, in my virtual experience, and here are seven examples — from the luxurious (driving a sports car, buying a boat) to the more mundane (visiting family, buying toilet paper) to the simply practical (saving the world from a rogue nuclear reactor meltdown). 

DRIVING A SPORTS CAR

Real highlight: Zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds, followed by a pulse-pounding rush up to 155 mph — a personal best! — in a Lamborghini Aventador on a closed track at Palm Beach International Raceway.

Real quote: “Weeeeeeeee!”

Real drawbacks: Crash-helmet hair. Silly grin. Desire to spend twice to three times life’s savings for car. Possible divorce proceedings. Living out of car with no back seat.

Virtual highlight: Zero to about 25 photos of a Lamborghini Aventador for sale on lamborghinibroward.com.

Virtual quote: “How can I help you with The Aventador?” a virtual sales assistant pops up to ask.

Real quote: “Lamborghini?” (Quickly check life’s savings with Erica, my virtual bank assistant. Lamborghi-no.) “Just looking.”

Virtual drawbacks: No pulse-pounding rush up to 155 mph. No “weeeeeeeeee!” No grins, silly or otherwise.

Winner: The Real. (Except for the crash-helmet hair.)

BUYING TOILET PAPER

Real highlight: Buy toilet paper at store.

Real quote: “I bought toilet paper.”

Real drawback: Take buying toilet paper for granted.

Virtual highlight: Buy toilet paper on costco.com

Virtual quote: “I bought toilet paper! I bought toilet paper! This is the second happiest day of my life!”

Virtual quote (four days later): “Your toilet paper has been delivered to your home.”

Virtual response (after two hours and 10 minutes of anxious waiting on a chat line to Costco): “But my toilet paper was not delivered to my home!”

Virtual quote: “We’re sorry to hear that. We will launch an investigation with the delivery company and refund your $24.60.”

Real quote: “Nooooooooooo!”

Virtual drawback: In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream.

Winner: The Real. (Not taking buying toilet paper for granted ever again.)

DRINKING WINE

Real highlight: Open bottle with friends. Pour, swirl, drink. Enjoy.

Real quote: “Cheers!”

Real drawbacks: Getting overly pretentious about the oakiness of the chardonnay. In rare cases, singing.

Virtual highlight: Watch other people, in this case Hall Rutherford co-owner Kathryn Hall and Director of Winemaking Megan Gunderson, pour, swirl and drink a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon in the Hall Shelter-in-Place “SiP” Series, hallwines.com/sip-cabernet.

Virtual fun fact: Yes, that winery. The one where Pete Buttigieg got in trouble.

Virtual quote No. 1: “This wine is just incredible.”

Virtual quote No. 2: “It’s very dark, brooding.”

Virtual drawback: Try clinking screen with Hall and Gunderson with a plastic cup of ginger ale the virtual shopper sent over instead of ginger.

Winner: The Real. After watching other people drink glass after glass of “just incredible” wine, which they can’t pour through the screen to me, my real response also is dark and brooding.

BUYING A BOAT

Real highlight: Walking oceanside docks at boat shows, looking over hundreds of watercraft up to superyacht size, on a bright sunny day, with cool sea breezes in our hair.

Real quote: “I forgot sunscreen. And a hat. And, oh, money.”

Real drawback: Forgetting to bring sunscreen. And a hat. (Quickly check life’s savings with Erica, my virtual bank assistant.) And that I still have no money.

Virtual highlight: Seeing dozens of boats — no appointment necessary! — in all their seafaring glory in Denison Yachting’s Virtual Boat Show, denisonyachtsales.com/virtual-boat-show/.

Virtual quote: “Boat shopping is admittedly a little less exciting from your laptop ... but we really believe a true Virtual Boat Show experience can still be delivered,” says Bob Denison, president of Denison Yachting.

Virtual disadvantage: No sunny dock walks. No cool sea breezes. No awesome after parties.

Winner: The Real. Afterparties are tricky to re-create without splashing Champagne and foam from the dance floor on the laptop computer.

TRAVEL TO A DREAM DESTINATION

Real highlights: Visiting Zermatt and the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

Real quote: “Yodelayheehoo, all you Instagram followers! I’m visiting Zermatt and the Matterhorn in Switzerland! And you’re not! See yodelater.”

Real drawback: Assuming if you can wear lederhosen like everybody else here, you can wear it anywhere else, too. (Places where you can’t successfully wear lederhosen, partial list: Office, grocery store, dentist, spa treatment, Department of Motor Vehicles ...)

Virtual highlights: Visiting Zermatt and the Matterhorn online at zermatt.ch/en/Webcams.

Virtual quote: “Where are Zermatt and the Matterhorn?” (Make mental note to check back when cloud cover lifts.)

Virtual drawback: No fondue while waiting for cloud cover to lift. Consider eating 10-year-old Twinkie from emergency supplies instead.

Winner: The Real. (Unless you’re already in line at the DMV in lederhosen.)

VISITING FAMILY

Real highlights: Hugs, handshakes, happy kisses — the full tactile experience you thought you’d lost when you moved out years ago. Or when you got quarantined last month. Or possibly because of the restraining order.

Real quote: “Mom, Dad — I’m home!”

Real drawback: “I brought my laundry. And my roommate. And he needs toilet paper.”

Virtual highlight: It’s so great seeing the whole family together again in a Sunday Zoom gathering at home! Even Aunt Martha, who forgot we can see everything. And Uncle Joe, who appears to be wearing ... lederhosen? Wait, how did Carole Baskin get on here?

Virtual quote: “Mom, Dad — unmute your screen! How did Carole Baskin get into your kitchen!?”

Virtual drawback: The mute button’s just a little too tempting when the conversation turns to the 2020 election. Wait, checking to see if this might actually be a highlight.

Winner: Tie. (The mute button has been ruled a highlight.)

DEFUSING A NUCLEAR REACTOR

Real highlight: Stopping a rogue nuclear reactor from radioactive meltdown.

Real quote: “I’ve saved (insert city, country, name of significant person) from radioactive meltdown!” Examples: “New York!” Or “The USA!” Or “The guy who sold Uncle Joe the lederhosen!”

Real drawback: “I’m so happy I’ve saved (insert city, country, lederhosen sales staff) from radioactive meltdown, I am practically glowing! No, wait — I am literally glowing.”

Virtual highlights: Stopping a rogue nuclear reactor radioactive meltdown using a virtual-reality robot controlled remotely from a bunker 2,500 miles away in Switzerland.

Virtual drawbacks: Still waiting for cloud cover to lift over Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Still no fondue. Decide to eat 10-year-old Twinkie from emergency supplies.

Virtual quote: “Of all the examples of real vs. virtual experiences here, this was the only that was virtually better. Except the Twinkie.”

Winner: The Virtual.

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