Virtual Reality Headset + The Walk = Pure Highwire Terror

the walk


I’ve never been so happy to be wearing sensible shoes. One of the women ahead of me, a TV reporter, has shown up to do a 110-story high tightrope walk—similar to the 1974 walk that highwire artist Philippe Petit completed between the Twin Towers—in heels.

Okay, so we never actually leave the ground. We’re here ahead of the release of The Walk, a movie about Petit’s daring stunt, which he dubbed “le coup.” The walk is done along a thin rubber strip affixed to the floor of a movie theatre in downtown Toronto. It’s only about 8 ft long. The space between the former The World Trade Center towers was 200 ft across. Walking along the strip once, turning, and heading back to the starting point looks like it should be ridiculously easy (especially in my Keds) but what a difference a virtual reality headset and an oscillating fan make.

Jake, our VR expert and the guy responsible for catching us when we all inevitably lose our balance (even the sporty-looking reporter in the Nikes), explains how the Project Morpheus for PlayStation 4 headset works. Once on, you’re transported to mid-70’s Manhattan (Taxi Driver! Dog Day Afternoon!). You can look 360 degrees around and the illusion remains unbroken. The sound of wind plays in your headphones and the cheap fan somebody probably brought from their apartment that morning adds to the overall effect.

Looking down turns out to be a huge mistake. There’s a metal cable that genuinely feels as though it is suspended more than 1,000 ft in the air. Forcing yourself off the ledge of the building your brain tells you you’re standing on is really hard (Jake says that about 20 per cent of people can’t bring themselves to do it). It isn’t a ‘mind over matter’ thing because your brain is working against you—and you can’t turn it off. I consider closing my eyes but I’m way too scared. Why didn’t I train for this?

I decide going as fast as possible is my best option. That way, no matter what happens, at least it’ll be over quickly. If this was a videogame, I’d have used up all my extra lives on this eight-foot strip of rubber. Here’s me dying at least five or six highwire deaths:

Embarrassing, sure, but this video will give you a rough idea of the 360-degree terror I was experiencing—only the Morpheus headset, which will hit stores in 2016, intensified everything by a factor of 5,000 or so:

Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, The Walk opens in IMAX 3D across major Canadian cities on September 30 with a wider release on October 9. Check out the trailer below.