First-person: How the roller coaster experience changes with VR and why I love it

Keith Shaw Jen McGrath Six Flags Superman coaster

Network World's Keith Shaw (left) chats with Six Flags New England Communications Manager Jennifer McGrath about the virtual reality headset for the Superman roller coaster.

Credit: Brandon Butler

Over the years, I’ve ridden lots of roller coasters - everything from the “kid coaster” at the local carnival, to Space Mountain and other Disney coasters, to the mega-monstrous coasters at Six Flags and other amusement parks. There is something very exciting about the first drop, a corkscrew loop or the speeds that you attain when riding a coaster. 

That said, as I’ve gotten older I find myself riding them less. Depending on the coaster, the shaking and head bumping that sometimes occurs gives me a sense of nausea or dizziness following the ride, and the recuperation time takes longer than when I was in my 20s. 

When we were asked to ride the Superman VR at Six Flags New England, I was a bit cautious about how I’d react. I had never ridden this particular ride, so I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how steep the first drop is, whether there are loops (there aren’t), how fast you’d go and whether you’d bump your head a lot. So for the first ride, we decided to forgo the VR headsets and just experience the ride.

Now that my brain sort of knew what to expect, we were ready to experience the VR portion. After a short recuperation time period (luckily, we didn’t have to ride the coaster consecutively), we got back on and strapped on the VR headset. The headset does provide for a tight fit, but one that isn’t uncomfortable. While the experience does provide for a 360-degree view, while you’re strapped into a roller coaster with its restraints and seat belts, you can only really look to your left, right and up/down (you can’t see behind you).

When the coaster climbed at the start, my body knew that we were climbing, but my brain was taking in the VR experience of Lex Luthor attacking the train, watching left and right to see where the story was progressing. I could feel the coaster about to drop for the first plunge, but after that my brain had forgotten which way the coaster was going to turn, and whether I’d be going up or down. At that point, my body was relying only on the VR experience to get me through it. Without the VR headset on, I could see whether we were heading for a drop, a rise, a turn, and would tense up accordingly. With VR, I didn’t have this tense feeling - and that was good (I think a lot of aches/pains that occur with coaster riding are from tensing up during drops and climbs).


Keith Shaw GoPro roller coaster preparation Brandon Butler

Network World's Keith Shaw straps on a GoPro before riding the Superman VR roller coaster at Six Flags New England.


The only time I felt some disorientation or queasiness was at the end of the ride. While the physical train stops at the end, the VR animation continues to move forward, bringing you back to the station. At this point, my brain was registering movement while my body was registering no movement, and the queasiness kicked in.

Overall, I preferred the VR experience over the regular coaster experience, and would highly recommend that people try this at least once in their life. I don’t think this is a fad with theme parks - as long as VR is around as a thing, we’ll likely see this expand to other coasters and other ride experiences to keep customers coming back.

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