A cold wind is blowing on my face as I ride a rickety elevator up an icy wall. Below me a castle becomes smaller with each passing second. Waiting for me at the top are murderous raiders and evil creatures.
Fortunately, none of it is real. I’m inside the virtual world of “Game of Thrones: Ascend The Wall” at the EMP Museum at the Seattle Center.
The “Game of Thrones” experience is modeled after the hit HBO television show, which is based on the best-selling book series (“A Song of Fire and Ice”) by George R. R. Martin. The fantasy franchise serves up equal servings of treachery and nobility as well as death and survival in Martin’s fictional world of Westeros.
In the stories, the land of Westeros ranges from an arctic landscape in the north to a balmy Mediterranean climate in the south. Martin took many of his cues from Middle Ages Europe, specifically England and Scotland.
In the real world, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall the width of Britain in 122 A.D. to keep the “barbarian” Scots out of Roman-controlled England. Its ruins still stand today.
In “Game of Thrones,” a 700-foot-high wall of ice separates the livable south from the icy north, home to the nearly unbeatable White Walkers and the ruthless Wildlings. The Wall is manned by the Night’s Watch, and an elevator takes guards assigned to the Watch to the top of the wall.
On this day, I’ve volunteered to be a ranger in the Night’s Watch.
After signing a waiver confirming that I’m of sound physical and mental condition (I might have fudged that one a bit), an EMP employee helps me put on what looks like a cross between night vision goggles and scuba mask, plus a pair of headphones. It’s all part of the 4D Oculus Rift virtual reality system. The fourth D in this scenario is the cold wind, heat and elevator movement. The elevator, it should be noted, never leaves the ground. But it felt as if it was rising in my virtual reality.
Once the experience began, it took less than a minute for me to reach the top of the wall where the door rolled back with a clang. There’s no dawdling here — the programmed mini-drama pulled me out of the elevator and onto the wall. I could see for miles in every direction.
The “virtual” part of this reality didn’t refer to clarity. Sure, the visuals have a real, responsive perspective to them. But low resolution made it look as if I was behind a thick screen door. Still, when I look down to the ground, I reflexively reach out to steady myself. I’m beginning to see why they made me sign that waiver.
I won’t tell you what happened next, but I wanted to scream like a 4-year-old girl — just like I might have done while riding the Extreme Scream at the Puyallup Fair. But seeing how the minimum age for the experience is 13, I decline to embarrass myself.
“I have a fear of heights and you really feel like you’re on that elevator,” Jasen Emmons, EMP’s curatorial director, told me as participants lined up for the experience. “At the end, it was a little touch and go.”
Another EMP employee told me she felt a little queasy after her experience.
“I’ve had a couple people tell me they took Dramamine before they did it, for motion sickness,” Emmons said.
Previously, but not currently, EMP has had the Iron Throne from “Game of Thrones” on display in the lobby. It was hit with visitors, Emmons said.
“Now that we’ve made the shift to a pop culture museum, this thing is totally in our wheelhouse,” Emmons said of the 4D feature. “We’re always looking for ways to let new technology immerse people.”
“Game of Thrones: Ascend the Wall” doesn’t last long — under two minutes — but it is included with museum admission. And EMP has other exhibits of interest to “Thrones” fans: “Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic” features Cersei Lannister’s red embroidered silk gown and the engraved metal corset and red leather doublet worn by Tyrion Lannister. Also on view is a manuscript page by George R.R. Martin and a script from the HBO pilot.
While those items are behind glass, the experience puts the viewer inside the action.
“It’s fun to watch people. You can see them flinching,” Emmons said. “You hear people cry out and hold on. I was holding on to the iron bars and telling myself it wasn’t real. But everything your brain is telling you is the opposite.”
Emmons was sending me a message. It’s OK to scream like a 4-year-old girl.