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Search for Nightlife: virtual reality check

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Virtuality Simulation Center, North Pier, 435 E. Illinois: Harold's heart was pounding. He was standing in the cyberpod waiting to experience virtual reality. He hadn't felt like this since he was 11 and saw Shamu the killer whale at Sea World of Ohio. Harold's father was a big Cleveland ice cream distributor and he got free passes so the whole family went, and the neighbors, including Brad Feldman.

Harold's girlfriend Pam was in an adjoining cyberpod. The cyberguide was tightening the knob on top of her helmet. With her ears and eyes covered, Harold thought, Pam looked like a confused robot, but a beautiful one. For now that Harold was going to experience virtual reality, he loved everyone. He wasn't even mad when Pam got a piece of lobster in her hair during dinner.

Harold, though excited, didn't know what to expect. He'd read that the feeling of motion would be simulated by a computer tracking his body's position, and that when he looked up or down or back he'd see a different part of a virtual environment on the liquid-crystal screens in his helmet. But what environment would it be? Would he be twirled in space and taken to a room full of chocolate and gold coins and bounce up and down like Uncle Scrooge? Or would he be in a medieval palace and wear a felt jerkin and entertain the king?

When the game began Harold felt he was going nowhere. He also felt too big to fit in the small cartoon that was playing inside his helmet. The cartoon, called "Dactyl Nightmare," showed a place made of five checkerboard planes connected by stairs without banisters. And there were some arches. It reminded Harold of the lobby of a Days Inn he saw advertised on the Weather Channel.

Suddenly Harold heard footstep sounds in his helmet. A voice said, "Time to die." He saw the enemy, Pam, who was represented as a slender, faceless man. Harold pressed the cyberstick walk button to advance but he couldn't control the speed and he flew up the stairs and out into space. Then he saw himself get picked up by the collar by a monster pterodactyl. He pressed the fire button a few times, turned left, then right. This went on for a while. The game was over.

Pam was fuming as she climbed down from her cyberpod. "I've had far more interesting daydreams," she said. "Just this afternoon I was walking through the Luxembourg Gardens in a Chanel suit speaking German to a Hittite scholar who had a flask of absinthe in his pocket. At about 3 PM I was in a rocket ship, sitting on a space chair next to a Dutch man and we were collaborating on an opera. We shared a baguette . . . "

"Enough!" commanded Harold. "I'm in a bad mood now." Out in the mall, he walked over to the giant gumball machine and put a quarter in. He sighed and decided that seeing the whale was still one of the finest experiences of his life. Even his mother was impressed. He remembered overhearing her whisper to his aunt, "We went below to look at him in the tank from underneath, and Cele, you wouldn't believe the size . . . "

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Bachtell.

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