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How virtual reality is helping this actor make kids smile

Heroes Reborn actor Zachary Levi plays Sony Morpheus VR.Heroes Reborn actor Zachary Levi plays Sony Morpheus VR.
Heroes Reborn actor Zachary Levi plays Sony Morpheus VR.The Nerd Machine

Actor Zachary Levi is using virtual reality to help raise money for Operation Smile.

Levi’s company, the Nerd Machine, is taking over the New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego in tandem with Comic Con International July 9-12 for the fifth annual Nerd HQ. The free event offers attendees a look into the future of video games and technology, including virtual reality.

Levi, known for his roles in Chuck and the upcoming Heroes Reborn, created Nerd HQ as a sanctuary for pop culture fans who make the annual pilgrimage to San Diego Comic Con. He’s turned to fellow Hollywood actors to volunteer for intimate Conversations for a Cause panels, which are limited to just 200 seats but are livestreamed to the world via IGN. Every penny from these panels is donated to Operation Smile, a global children’s charity organization that helps treat facial deformities such as cleft lips and cleft palates.

To date, Nerd HQ has raised over $795,000 for Operation Smile. Last year’s event, which was held at PetCo Park, had over 50,000 attendees and reach another 5 to 10 million people online. Levi anticipates a bigger audience this year. He sets a goal of raising $240,000 per convention. It costs $240 for corrective surgery on one child, which means 1,000 kids’ lives are changed as a result of these donations.

Sony and AMD, two companies investing heavily in virtual reality, have signed on as sponsors for Nerd HQ 2015. This year’s four-day event will feature Sony Morpheus games like The London Heist, Monster Escape, Headmaster, and Super Hypercube.

Nerd HQ has been offering fans previews of virtual reality since 2013, when the Virtuix Omni multi-directional treadmill was playable along with an early version of the Oculus Rift.

“I’ve always been fascinated with VR, as a lot of people have been even if they’re not super into tech,” Levi says. “We’re not entering The Matrix yet, but everything I’ve experienced with Oculus and Morpheus shows that we’re rapidly heading towards a world where virtual reality is a reality.”

VR remains an important part of Nerd HQ, which Levi says was originally created to allow the public to experience the Nerd Triple Crown of events—the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), E3, and Comic Con—all of which are either closed to consumers or are very difficult to get into.

This year Comic Con is showcasing Hollywood VR experiences based around TV shows like TNT’s The Last Ship and FX’s The Strain. Levi doesn’t see TV shows filming actors in VR any time soon, but he does see opportunities with VR.

Geeking out is what Comic Con is all about, and Nerd HQ adds a nice twist by raising a lot of money for charity. Virtual reality not only shows attendees the future of games and entertainment, but also helps contribute to a good cause.