We Risked Our Sanity In Legion’s VR Experience

We Risked Our Sanity In Legion’s VR Experience
July 26, 2017

With surreal visual and a twisted tale of mutants and mental illness, the hit FX series Legion; has proved mind-bending in the best ways. To celebrate the show’s success and its colorful cast coming to Comic-Con International in San Diego, FX created Sessions: The Legion Mixed Reality Experience, a special interactive activity that blends virtual reality and some unnerving real-life effects  to put fans in the shoes and shattered sanity of its schizophrenic hero, David Haller.


We sent our very own Kristy Puchko to give it a go. Here is her story.


The Hilton Bayfront’s seaside lawn is radiant with sunlight and alive with activities promoting FX shows like the spy-spoof Archer, the edgy comedy Atlanta, and the upcoming drug-trafficking drama Snowfall. But I march past it all, and straight to on ivy-coated shack with “LEGION” emblazoned across its side.


I approach a neatly dressed man, informing him I have a noon appointment. “Good,” he says with a smile that’s just a twinge too broad, “We’ve been expecting you. First I need to take your measurement.” With that, he raises a device to my face that vaguely resembled goggles. He tells me to look at the green light inside while he measured my IPD. When I asked what that meant, he tells me in a friendly but manic tone not to “worry about it.” A bit unnerved, I follow directions. He writes the number “16.0” on a medical bracelet that he secures to my wrist.


The bracelet says my name is David Haller. From there, I am ushered to a door and instructed to wait my turn. Each of the people ahead of me are led inside one at a time by a blonde woman wearing a white, button-down shirt, black slacks and a mirthless expression. I’d never see any of them again.


When it was my turn, the door opened to a different blond woman, who was shorter but wore the same outfit, the same flat expression. She greeted me coolly as David, and guided me inside. Now, I am in a long hallway so brilliantly white I can’t help but squint. The woman asks if I remember her. I chuckle, and admit I don’t. A flash of concern creases her brow, but she tells me not to worry. All this “don’t worry” talk is achieving the opposite effect, and it’s now that I realize my hair is standing on end, perhaps in part because of how bracingly chilly it is in this hallways.


As she leads me to sit on a stool, I notice I’m being watched by a line of men in lab coats, carting clipboards. As I sit, one descends on me, delicately placing a virtual reality device on my head. I’d been warned about this by the man with the IDP machine. They’d need to gage my gaze, gesture and voice. All would be crucial in the virtual reality aspect of the experience.


With an eerily calm tone, the woman — never breaking character — walks “David” through a tutorial on how to incite voice commands, and operate the VR with a specific pinching gesture. Then, she leads me into an interrogation room. Even now it’s hard to keep straight in what order the following events occurred, so jarring was this experience.


This was a VR trip unlike any other. Instead of an opaque image that plays out like an immersive movie, CGI elements are laid over the real world, which I can still see through the goggles. Seated in the room illuminated by blacklight, I’m encouraged to look around, and take in the Rorschach splotches framed on the wall, the lamp on a distant book shelf, the small song statuette on the desk before me. All are radiant, glowing with an eerie light.


The blond stranger stands behind me, out of my view. She asks if I hear a sound. I do. It’s a repetitive clacking. She directs me to find its source. I look down at the desk and spot a Newton’s cradle, its metal balls swinging back and forth, creating the thick clack, clack, CLACK. She dares me to stop it with my mind. I stare at the balls, and focus, feeling a bit silly and conscious. But just like that, they freeze in mid-swing, and I drop my jaw.


The VR device on my head swirls with noise. My concentration broken, the balls go back to their swinging and clacking. A flurry of voices swim around my head, making me dizzy. Then, I can hear Melanie (Jean Smart) tell me I’m in a memory, that I am safe. She urges me to focus and drown the voices out. I take a deep breath, and as I exhale the voices vanish. That’s when a tall, thin, young man in a suit enters.


Melanie tells me I’m to do as he says. He sits before me on the other side of the desk. Clearly, he’s in charge here. He informs me we are here to test my abilities. That I’m very powerful. He dares me to lift the dog statuette on the table. With a gesture and focus, I see it levitate and wiggle in the air before my eyes. He asks me to look at the black and red inkblot on the wall. What is it? I tell him it looks like a frogman. I do not tell him that with the red splotches in its middle, it specifically looks like a frogman dissected, it’s lungs exposed like in a grade schooler’s science class. He asks me if I struggle with my sense of identity. I know this is just a game, but I–not David–am authentically rattled.


The exam continues with me moving transporting the lamp from the far shelf to the desk before me, and reading his mind to uncover the shapes hidden on three playing cards I’ve made float between us. Then Melanie’s voice is gone, and I can hear Syd (Rachel Keller) telling me she’s there in the man, that she’s protecting me. Then the man yells for me to watch out. He pulls me behind the desk, away from the door, and when I turn to look behind me, I see the blond woman is gone, replaced by The Angriest Boy In The World. He’s not virtual reality. He is there, thanks to a clearly papier-mâché, yet totally terrifying mask that’s as big as an oversized beach ball.


Syd/the man tells me I must use my mind to stop him in his tracks, and I do but not for long.  As the Boy lunges at me, the suited man shoves me through the wall where the booksout of the black-lit room, free from the mysterious interrogator, the blond stranger and the Angriest Boy In the World. I’m in a brightly lit hallway with a new fleet of lab-coated folk, vibrant green trees projected against the back wall. But these people smile at me, and are genuinely warm and welcoming. Even as my brain spins, they position me–VR headgear and all–in front of a camera. You can see the results here. 


Then someone gently took the VR device off my head and let me loose in the sunshine. I was baffled, my heart racing… and maybe never so happy to not have super powers.

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