What falling from the Burj Khalifa feels like (in VR)

By Sarwat Nasir

At 2,700 feet, I’m balancing on a steel plank held by four ropes that are tied to a metal object on top of the Burj Khalifa. Thankfully, three steel rods are installed on each side of the plank as I try to wipe the windows of the world’s tallest building. One wrong step and I would plunge to my death. I try to stay still so the plank doesn’t swing. I hear faint sounds of civilisation beneath me. Even though I was on the verge of death, the vain part of me was glad that the masses wouldn’t get to see me in my window-cleaner overalls — another reason to not fall.

It’s a cloudy day and the winds have picked up. My heart starts to pace. My grip tightens on the ropes. The winds hit the steel plank on which I am balanced. The plank is keeping me from going splat on the ground. I tighten my grip against the ropes as my sweaty palms attempt to backstab me by continuously slipping. Suddenly, I hear a loud thud and my ropes swirl. The plank jolts downwards a little. At that moment, I knew I was going to die.

This was it. The ropes malfunction, and I plunge downwards. The force from the fast movement makes my stomach churn. My hair is flying and my skin is getting pulled from the pressure of the winds. A thousand feet dip, and the plank makes a sudden stop mid-air and the ropes re-stabilise.

My relief lasts for only three seconds. The plank gets pulled up this time, at the same speed it went down. There was no escaping alive from this: up, down, up, down — all unimaginably fast. My body is being pushed around by the wind and my grip against the ropes keep slipping. The plank goes downward again, this time further than 1,000ft. My heart is pacing at the same speed of these ropes. I’m screaming at the top of my lungs as the plank reaches closer to the ground. The small figures of people are appearing normal human size again as I get closer to earth. Oh, no, no, no…

Relax, I’m not dead. Nor was I really on top of the Burj Khalifa or a window cleaner. Well, I was — virtually. I just tried out the Burj Drop virtual reality (VR) ride at the VR Park in The Dubai Mall that opened in March. The rides at this park have transformed the way amusement parks should be experienced. Traditional roller coasters, dungeon drops, sports and shooting games will not satisfy thrill-seekers once they’ve tried out the VR Park. All of these types of rides are available at the park with virtual reality headsets on.

Still reeling from my adrenaline rush caused by the Burj Drop, I made my way to the next ride — the Dubai Drone. Luckily, I bought the Dh200 ticket that gives me access to all the rides at the park. This is the same one-minute roller coaster ride that has been at the The Dubai Mall for years, but now riders can experience it with VR. I put my headset on and off I go. I’m flying a drone at dangerous speeds around Dubai. My stomach is sinking, but the feeling of flying a drone so fast is exhilarating. I fly it around the Burj Khalifa and try to push back the trauma of earlier. Men in suits, children and women in dresses wave and smile at me from the ground as I fly at soaring speeds. I park my drone at the top of a building and take my VR headset off, adjusting myself to actual reality.

There are several shooting games at the VR Park, including River Raft, where you shoot monsters that have caused viral diseases to the world and PAYDAY: The VR Heist, which is where you attempt to rob a bank. Also, for sci-fi geeks, there is a game where you can virtually shoot zombies that are out to get you. And you can try the more tame VR dune bashing.

The one I was too chicken to try was The Plummet. You get on a large swinging machine wearing the headset. It swings you fast from side to side and turns you upside down. With the VR on, you’re actually skydiving above Dubai. I’ve always been too afraid to try actual skydiving. Maybe, this VR ride can is practice to get me started on the real thing.

When not reporting or playing the piano, Sarwat’s at karaoke


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