I’ve seen cats chase Mario across the screen. I know chimps are very close to humans. Still, nothing prepared me for actually seeing a chimp wearing a consumer VR product, the HTC Vive, and then reaching out to try to touch virtual reality just like I do.
Yet here it is.
The video was originally posted to an account associated with a wildlife encounter group in South Carolina. The Myrtle Beach Safari promises a guided walk through of a preserve with photos and close up encounters with tigers, wolves, leopards, orangutans and chimpanzees. I reached out to a Twitter account associated with the group and asked some questions to learn more.
The chimp’s name is Sugriva. He’s 5-years-old and he was born at the preserve. According to an email from Bhagavan Antle, director of the group, he’s tried the HTC Vive “15 min, 10 times, over a few days” and, though they “have been working on it”, Sugriva hasn’t grasped the concept of the Vive controllers yet. The worlds he’s visited are The Solus Project, SurrealVR, Waltz of the Wizards, MSI Electric City and, apparently his preferred world, Disney Movies VR.
“He liked the castle and looking around at the lands in that one and the Jungle Book’s scenes,” Antle wrote. “He loved being on the red carpet for movie events waving at people and trying to get the attention or grabbing them when they would walk by.”
I asked why they tried it and Antle wrote “to give him enrichment and entertainment.” I also asked whether they were concerned at all about whether VR might hurt the animal, and Antle wrote “I can see no way a working animal ambassador chimp like him” could be harmed by it.
I’ve put a number of people in VR for the first time and this reaction looks identical to a humans. It’s an unexpected reminder of just how similar they are to us.