Mr. Samroeng Thongrong, Former VR Artist
What is reality? Can we trust that it is what our five senses reveal to us: what we see, hear, smell,
taste, and feel? Should we believe that anything beyond our sensory ability to detect and our brain to process isn’t real?
For the world’s greatest physicist Albert Einstein, reality “is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”.
The statement is the sum of the truth about the universe: everything, including humans, are the composition of four elements. Hence, the reality is as subjective as each individual’s perception and isn’t confined to our senses.
The advent of Virtual Reality seemed to confirm the notion. The technology was first invented to simulate a real-life situation and event for training and education purpose. The technology was growing at an exponentially rate as it was increasingly integrated with the gaming and filming industries to enhance the experience. VR has become even more real for many gamers. It is their sanctuary.
Former VR Artist Samroeng Thongrong was among the pioneering teams in VR technology, living and breathing it for two decades in the US before returning to Thailand permanently six years ago. Although that was long time ago, he still remembers how excited he was when hearing about it for the first time.
“Before I moved to the US, I worked at a framed glass wall manufacturing company in Saudi Arabia doing
an architect-related job. At that time, computer magazines started coming out so I began reading everything about computer. I also met another Thai who was a graphic designer and his talent and skill inspired me to learn more about animation.”
The First Turning Point – After almost ten years with the company, Mr Samroeng became weary of the job and thought it was time for a new challenge. He quit his job despite the management’s offer to raise his salary, moved to the US, and immediately enrolled in graphic design course at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The then 35-year-old artist worked at the college for a while and took up a project. After almost two years, he fully entered the VR business.
Mr Samroeng was part of the team responsible for creating a simulation of real-life situations and events. The works were to be used for professional training in various fields or as an official evidence in a court case involving accidents or crimes.
A career in animation has always been one of the most sought-after in the 21st century. For Mr Samroeng, the idea of creating something out of thin air was both exciting and empowering, particularly when you’re “the creator”, not an end user.
“The thought sat right there inside us…. that we were like God even…being able to create a three-dimensional world where you can walk, fl y, and do whatever you want… Another plus is you never die in that virtual world. And I wasn’t the only one who thought this way.”
The next decade was a glory period. Although he did not work on entertainment-based projects, the workload was not any less. It was common to work a long stretch of hours, sometimes 2-3 days in a row. Slowly, it took a heavy toll on his health.
The Reality of Life – Born with a leaky heart valve, Mr Samroeng knew his career was at the crossroads.
“My heart was swollen, so were my feet. The oxygen-rich blood started to mix with oxygen-poor blood because the value’s function really got worse,” he explains. If left untreated, he would have only three months to live.
Realizing he could no longer work in a hectic environment after the surgery, Mr Samroeng took early
retirement and returned to Thailand with his wife to take care of her.
The illness was a blessing in disguise indeed. He met up with an old friend who was a physician and meditator. “My faith and interest in Buddhism started to grow very strong when I saw him getting ordained. He’s a doctor, very educated, and now practicing Dhamma. There must be something good about Dhamma.”
Like the first time he discovered VR, Mr Samroeng was fascinated with the world within himself. Only this time, the mind-blowing impact was at the core of his being. After having practiced Vipassana (Mindfulness) meditation for a few years, the man once called arrogant by others is now humble and sensitive to the feeling of others.
“I’m a much better person than before. If was mad, I could throw things. Now I’ve become more patient and understanding. When I moved back to Thailand, I didn’t really get along with my mother as it took time to get adjusted to each other again,” he notes, explaining that the Buddha’s teachings help him see her unconditional love and feel grateful for it.
Finding Truth Within – The mindfulness practice also resulted in sharper mind, waking up his senses to the truth that nothing is real and invoking the feeling guilt on the addictive power of the technology.
“Dhamma allows me to see the nature of animation work. I used to feel envious of my friends for working in
entertainment and gaming business because it was fun and makes a lot of money. Now I know they’re living in the illusion, the world of make-believe. It’s a form of self-deception.”
For him, the future has never been clearer and truer. Who could have thought the 2,563-year-old teaching
of Buddha is the most novel discovery. Only those who practice Dhamma will know.