"Are you ready to shatter reality?" she asks me expectantly.
It's not a question I'd considered until I signed up for a go on the "Insurgent -- Shatter Reality" virtual reality experience powered by Samsung.
Sitting in a chair modeled to look like the furniture Tris (Shailene Woodley) is strapped into for testing in "Divergent" and the upcoming "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," wrist cuffs and all, situated in an open-sided truck parked outside the Samsung Galaxy Studio on New York's snowy Prince Street, I decided I was as ready as I ever would be to shatter reality. I accepted the Samsung Gear VR headset -- a white visor with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 stuck on the front, powering the experience -- and massive white headphones and dove right in.
Here's the thing about virtual reality: from the outside, it looks dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I was fully aware that I was sitting in a down coat wearing a big plastic chunk of technology on my face, moving my head around seemingly at random (the VR environment is designed to be a 360 experience, so you can look at the sky, your hands, your own headless torso dressed in a pseudo-military jumpsuit) and making faces in full view of the experience's staff and random passersby. What I was seeing in the experience, however, made it worth the potential embarrassment.
In the simulation, you're an unnamed member of Dauntless being experimented upon by Jeanine Matthews (played in the simulation, as in the movie, by Kate Winslet). You're taken through a few fear landscapes, like Tris in the book. You begin with your chair on the crumbling edge of a ledge. If you're afraid of heights, don't look down -- it looks very real. What sets the "Insurgent" experience apart from some other VR simulations I've been through is the 4D sensation. Cold air blows on your face, as if you really are on that desolate cliff, and the chair vibrates to sync with what's happening in front of your face. When the chair goes down, elevator-style, later in the simulation, the chair vibrates and wind rushes up, heightening the reality of it all.
In the first fear landscape, birds repeatedly and terrifyingly rush at your face. Like, a lot of birds, a lot of times. I'll admit it: I closed my eyes against it once or twice. Max (Mekhi Phifer) appears on screen to congratulate you on passing the "test" (there's no interactive game or puzzle to solve, beyond just not making a fool out of yourself in the outside world) and to lead you on to the next. And, surprise: you're Divergent! Careful.
Onto the next fear landscape. The pseudo-villainous Peter (Miles Teller) is here for this one, kicking his feet and telling you "not to get distracted by anything, like me -- oops." Oops is right: you're seated in front of a crumbling track with a train coming right at you, full speed. The wind rushes, the sound roars. Dare you not to flinch.
Back in the lab, Jeanine's assistant notes with shock that he's never seen anyone beat the simulations so quickly.
"I want to study this one," Jeanine says coldly. Game over, you're free. I'm back on icy cold Prince Street, handing over the gear.
If you'd like to experience the "Insurgent -- Shatter Reality" simulation yourself, it will tour through New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin and San Francisco, before becoming available across platforms. Some Best Buy stores will also feature the experience March 7 and 8.
Consider that reality shattered.
"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" hits theaters March 20.