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Under The Blade by Michael Ntallas
  • Under The Blade

Under The Blade

The King Of Kings

He could not hide his excitement that morning. His wet hands were shaking of joy and desire, and a broad, hysteric, almost evil, grin, was drawn on his face, caressing and distorting the lot of it, beginning from his mouth, and fading out almost to where his, curly-hair-hidden ears, began to form. The veins on his forehead pumped like crazy, and looked as if they would come to life, whenever they chose to.  Drawn to the darkest corridors of his mind’s morbid abyss, he had absolved and freed himself from the effort of escaping the grisly labyrinth, if there was ever any, and now was, beyond redemption.

He would, at last, escape the slimy world he was willingly crawling into for so many years, flattering and blandishing the King’s everything, and would, at least for one day (“better than nothing!” he manically shouted inside his mind), take his place; and along with his place, all the power, respect, and wealth, that he would proudly wear, as if they were war medals, rotten from time and manners.

The obsequious courtier, barely held-in his frenzied screeches that morning, as he was about to become, The King Of Kings.

Under The Blade

Wearing the royal attire, he entered the massive dining room, where he was promised the treatment of a King; any food and drink he craved for, would be his in an instant, would he ask for it. Dancers and musicians entertained him, with the acts and sounds he so much lusted for. Scattered among the crowd, he could distinguish spineless, cowardice shapes – mirrors they reminded him for a moment – that would eagerly praise the soft and shiny robes with every chance. And for these moments, that nobody could deprive him of, he had it his own, in the moist palm of his hand, what he had so hard worked for, every moment of his shadowy, cheap excuse of a life. For these moments, he had swept his chosen fate, with one that was on top of them all.

He made himself comfortable to the one place a King never offers, and among manic laughs, acts of shame, that always escort antediluvian behaviors of infinite power, and a desperate internalized cry for the clepsydra never to run out, he noticed it. A sword, hanging over his throne, long and shiny, barely waving back and forth; hanged by thin, brown, horse hair. Who…Wh…Why had nobody told him? All this time now! Where they so blurred, by the obscene festivities, or was he the only one that could see it? Whose sword was it, and why did they hang it there? Why would anybody…?! Over HIS-BLOODY-THRONE??!!!

Damocles looked at the, ecstatic now, crowd, dancing, laughing, shamelessly feasting and drinking. He felt cold, alone and scared, before he turned his sight towards the hanging blade, for a second time.

The Legend Lives…Again

Virtual Reality began as a concept a long time ago. With a bold statement, we could chronologically place it around the 1930’s. Even before that, there had been attempts to alter people’s perception of what they saw, a painting, or a photo, based on eye-sight research. Of course, the term Virtual Reality, was late to enter the game with the name it became famous with, but the effort to approximate the concept, goes way back.

Various interpretations had been presented to the public, all causing uncontrolled excitement on the spot, promising pixelized Brave New Worlds. All of them however, equally and heavily limited by the existing technology. As a result, the promising projects mainly lived in papers, analyses, and innovative experiments.

The Sword Of Damocles

It was not until 1968, that Ivan Sutherland along with his student, Bob Sproull, created the first VR / AR head mounted display. It was connected to a computer instead of a camera, unlike the previous interpretations of VR Prototypes. The device was of course primitive in terms of interface, as well as realism. The graphics generated by the computer, were basic, primitive really, wireframe rooms and objects. Sutherland’s system displayed output from a computer program in the stereoscopic display.

The imposing head mounted display, was a rather massive and scary contraption, too heavy for anyone to have on for a long time, and was suspended from the ceiling, right above where the user would sit. The name of the project was, “The Sword Of Damocles”.

The King Is Dead

Many where the different versions, failed or otherwise, during the next years. Movies and video-games, magazines and programmers, all promised to present us with a Virtual Reality kit, that would transform our boring reality, into an action packed, exciting world, full of surprises and adventures unheard. Madness burst out, as pop culture gave birth to one of its most thrashing hits of the 90’s, “The Matrix”. The movie’s radical story and revolutionary visual effects, took the concept many steps further, creating a virtual world, where people would live in, without acknowledging the lie of it all, and as fine-tuned Swiss clocks, programmed by autonomous Machines, they would produce precious materials for them. The series widened the mind and imagination of viewers on Virtual Reality and its supposed possibilities, rather than offering a concrete Virtual experience.

All these attempts always kept the public hyped, and with their imagination galloping, everybody was expecting the revolution of Virtual Reality to hit soon. Alas, as one miss succeeded the other, with video game kits disappointing the users, or not getting on the market at all, due to technical issues, or overrated capabilities. Certain applications, tried to take the beholder to Virtual worlds, allowing them to interact on the go, letting down the public in the end, as they never delivered the goods they had promised. On top of that, even the half-finished attempts, which were probably betting solely on impressing the user, were often too expensive for mid-users to even consider.

Live By The Sword

The King was definitely not to fade and vanish, without honor; and as history shows us, not to vanish at all. Virtual Reality made a blasting come-back at the beginning of the past decade, redeeming itself for all the uncomplete products and failed attempts of the previous. As honesty is a virtue though, we ought to state that failure is not the right word to use. For the efforts and attempts might had been fruitless at the time, but there were all steps being taken, pushing towards the future, and all the wondrous things that were to come and be witnessed.

Nowadays museums, Cultural Institutes, pseudo-interactive (for now) movies, and of course video-games, all have made good friends with Virtual Reality systems. You can wander in pre-historical times in high-tech museums, enter imaginary worlds and interact with their different aspects, or fight the vicious authoritarian Machines in “The Matrix-VR” video-game, using the goggles that have been developed.

The era of Virtual Reality has finally arrived, and the odds seem to be endless.

Evolution Is Imminent

As the saying goes “have fun first, work later” (come to think of it, might be the other way around, but who cares, am I right), Virtual Reality has made quite an entrance on entertainment systems, with Education taking its turn at last.

The time has arrived to become witnesses of VR/AR systems into adult education. Light years ahead of the traditional educational and didactic practices, Virtual Reality will allow students to learn and practice on simulated situations, in real time. This will offer them all the learning advantages of practicing on their field of expertise, facing all the alternatives and taking decisions, without the real-life risks and dangers. Imagine a Medicine student, studying to become a surgeon, interacting with a patient while on surgery. Making choices at real time, understanding why they are the right ones or not, or trying different approaches, all without risking, acquiring precious knowledge on the way. Imagine a trainee at a space program being trained at their university, on complex machinery. They could try everything, as bad decisions do not equal disaster, as they would in real life. At the end of the day, students will have better understanding of the technology and situations, through harmless trial and error.

Long Live The King!

We are becoming witnesses of an era that everything changes. Things that were considered stables, change in a matter of days, often with unprecedented results for our world. At this juncture, we are to focus on evolving, towards directions of inclusion and innovation. And as education evolves, so does the rest of the world.

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