Virtual Reality Without a Headset? Sounds Possible - VR Life

Virtual Reality With No Headset

virtual reality


Famous Deaths is a VR experience at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s an experience that could offend people and is quite weird. The experience first debuted in Amsterdam with 2 stainless steel boxes that were connected to speakers and scent tubes. Both freezers have a small digital display that says that the experience is “cooling” or “ready”. People who experience this VR experience are inside the last four minutes of a person’s life that involves smell, temperature and sound. This experience isn’t typical virtual reality per se.


Because of technical issues, Famous Deaths wasn’t able to be experienced for the first couple of hours at the Tribeca Film Festival’s “Interactive Playground”. Once it did become available, people scoured over to check it out.

The Famous Deaths Experience

The Tribeca Film Festival Interactive gallery was lit up similar to a nightclub and you could smell the artificial sweetness as sounds fade in and out. People could have experienced JFK or even Whitney Houston among others’ final moments.

 In the Whitney Houston experience, people hear the sounds of cereal and water. There’s not a headset, like typical VR. Instead, people transport to this creepy experience without a headset.

One of the creators of Famous Deaths, Marcel Van Brakel, thinks that Famous Deaths is just another way of doing VR. He said, “We don’t use any image, but it’s still a kind of virtual experience and first-person experience,” he says. “You become Whitney Houston for a moment, and forget that you are someone else. That’s very similar, I think, to a VR experience, where you forget where you are and that it’s not real.”

While most of the VR experiences utilize the HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, the Tribeca Film Festival showed several VR experiences that didn’t require headsets.

‘Famous Deaths’ installation view Hyperallergic

The Quinn Experience

Another example is Quinn, a short game made for people to escape the room. The people are given smartphones that are able to scan QR codes and then obtain instructions. After that, they have a couple of minutes to boot up and troubleshoot a rogue AI as they work in a super small space. It didn’t work perfectly as some people had issues with its functionality.

The developer of Quinn, Shaun Axani, wanted to make it a virtual reality experience at first. He said, “As I went through ideating on it and workshopping on it, I was just kind of like – I don’t think this is what fits best. I think I want it to be physical and more performative.” He has also thought about adding augmented reality elements as well. However, just like Famous Deaths, it would take a lot of work and potentially mean uncomfortable participants if typical AR and VR was added to the experiences.

The Quinn Building Products VR Experience (UE4)
The Quinn Building Products VR Experience (UE4) Youtube

Virtual Reality Isn’t Just VR Headsets

Considering the main point of virtual reality is to put a person in a different experience, there’s not one way to do it. For a long time, virtual reality and related terms have been thought of as putting a big clunky piece of hardware on our faces. However, there’s clearly another way to create virtual reality. Axani said, “If we do our jobs right in trying to create this narrative, you’re brought into this other space and this other world. Right now, people are just very obsessed with head mounted displays.”

Headsets and virtual reality are synonymous for now, but that could also change as time goes on. 

The floor under the Tribeca Interactive Playground is the Storyscapes exhibit which is home to The Turning Forest, a fairytale originally made with a purely sonic type of virtual world. Similar to Famous Deaths, the experiences utilizes spatial audio to create a realistic sound of water, leaves and a menacing creature. The concept was originally created through a BBC Audio Research Partnership and directed by Oscar Raby, the creator of Assent. 

These experiences provide a way for people to see all sorts of worlds and more importantly feel, smell and hear different worlds which help enact an illusion that’s very realistic.



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