Matt McMullen in the virtual reality lab at his company, Realbotix. Credit Graham Walzer for The New York Times
In early 2014 Ela Darling, 31, a pornographic actress, recorded her first virtual reality sex scene. She was in a college dorm room at the University of Maryland dressed in an R2-D2 swimsuit and high athletic socks. She sat on a twin bed, next to a wooden desk, and spoke to the camera as if it were a real person. There was no story line and no other actors.
“It was a solo masturbation scene,” she said. “I was coy and flirty and then a little bit dirty. I felt sexy as hell.”
Ms. Darling had been filming pornography since she was 22 and took her job seriously. It was her responsibility to convince audiences to connect with her physically and emotionally. She tried everything, including acting out bondage fetishes, performing erotic electrostimulation (“electrosex”) on another woman and dressing as a real-estate agent. Yet no matter what she did to entice and engage, the results had always been voyeuristic, since there was always a screen separating her and her fans.
This time, though, was different. Virtual reality uses many camera lenses to record the same scene from hundreds of angles. When the takes are stitched together, the viewer gets a 180- or 240-degree view of the room and the feeling that he or she is there, participating. As soon as Ms. Darling viewed the scene she recorded, she knew virtual reality would be a sea change to her job and the adult-entertainment industry. “You can pretend like you are in the bedroom with me, and it is someone you have a crush on,” she said. “You are in the experience.”