I'd thought the weirdest part of Samsung's Gear VR promotional blitz would be William H. Macy having a VR fantasy about hawking Samsung phones. Nope! It's the part where Samsung partnered with Six Flags to have people wear Gear VRs on literal roller coasters.
If you visit one of nine Six Flags coasters scattered across the United States (listed here), you'll soon have the option of putting on a Gear VR headset and entering either the "Superman Virtual Reality Coaster" or the "New Revolution Virtual Reality Coaster," depending on the location. The latter includes some interactive shooting component, presumably involving tapping the Gear VR's trackpad, although it implies that you'll only use it to "test fire" weapons before anything exciting happens. The animation is supposedly synced precisely to the roller coaster, which theoretically eliminates the eye / body mismatch that produces motion sickness. As Six Flags' promotional video puts it: This changes everything!
I swear that is the start of the actual video, not something we Photoshopped. And they're right — it changes everything. But only because it's such a spectacularly miserable idea.
They actually do explain how it won't fall off your head
Six Flags does address the two big logistical concerns with the Gear VR: "How do you keep it clean?" and "Why doesn't it fall off your head?" With regard to the former, the face mask has been covered in "anti-microbial leather" and wiped down before every use. While the video only shows a single head strap, the Gear VR's overhead strap and a chin strap will appear on the headsets. They're paired with a "safety lanyard," although if the Gear VR (which is quite heavy) somehow slips off my head on a fast-moving object under tremendous centripetal force, I might rather see it fall than have a high-tech bludgeon whipping around. The FAQ also reassures you that VR headsets work at night, in case you were asking that question for any reason whatsoever.
On one level, it seems inefficient to buy something that runs on a detachable phone if it's not going to see much use outside the headset. But I've yet to try an all-in-one headset remotely close to matching the Gear VR's quality. Six Flags will keep enough Samsung phones and headsets around to keep the rides running smoothly while they clean them — and probably to let them recharge periodically, unless they've fitted Micro USB cables into the cars themselves.
So why is it a bad idea? First of all, because immersive virtual experiences synced to physical motion are already popular and enjoyable theme park attractions. They look like this:
Well, fine, you say. These things still can't capture the wind in your hair, or the full force of turning upside down. After all, I'm the one always complaining about how VR music videos don't feel like real concerts. Once you're at the point of getting on a roller coaster, though, you're already completely immersed in a specific kind of experience. A big face mask playing footage of an alien invasion — with what, I might point out, are not hugely realistic graphics — is actually adding unnecessary artificiality.
Theme parks are already their own simulated reality
At home, a virtual reality roller coaster ride is great because you (probably) do not have millions of dollars to construct an actual machine that defies gravity, or a fake landscape that exists in the physical world. But the whole point of going to Six Flags is to really, truly see the ground hundreds of feet below you — to get the closest possible simulation to flying in real space. I might as well go to a golf course and play Wii Golf on the fairway.
Wearing headsets on the rides is still going to be completely optional, so they're effectively ignorable for anyone who doesn't want one. There's just a small part of my soul that gets crushed whenever I watch the GIF above, making me rethink every time I've reassured somebody that VR isn't going to make us forget all of life's non-virtual pleasures. Or maybe it's just my lungs compressing from uncontrollable laughter.