I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. That’s over 3 decades of playing hundreds (probably thousands) of games on almost every major gaming platform. I’ve also been writing about games for Mega Dads for almost five years and attended several gaming conventions including two E3s. Laying out my gaming history isn’t some attempt at nerd bragging, but rather just to demonstrate that when it comes to video games, I’ve been around the block a few times. All of which makes this next admission a little bit unexpected.
Until recently I had never in my life experienced virtual reality.
I know, I know, it’s a bit shocking. Most gamers my age have experienced it at least once in their lives, but I hadn’t and I’m not ashamed to admit it. That’s not to say that there haven’t been opportunities, I recall one afternoon in a Best Buy there was a demo station running Eve: Valkyrie, but the timing just wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, I was just waiting for the moment to feel right. This isn’t something that you want to rush if you’re not ready. Well, last week the stars (and discounts) aligned and it finally happened. And it was magical.
It all started when I was up late one night, watching a little television and scrolling through Twitter as I often do before turning in for the night. Twitter was the usual combination of witty hot takes and people who were really mad about…. everything, when I stumbled across a post from Wario 64 (if you don’t follow him already, do it now). He had posted about a deal at Target that looked to be some sort of pricing error that was allowing for huge discounts. It seemed too good to be true but I figured what the heck, I’ll check and see if the coupon codes work for me. I added the item to my cart, punched in the codes, and before you could say “oh shit, now I have to explain this to my wife” I had purchased a PlayStation VR bundle for less than half of its retail price. It was finally going to happen.
As I pulled into the driveway after work later that week, my heart began to race as I saw the large package that was waiting for me. I had a couple of hours before my family would get home so I decided that this would be as good of an opportunity as any to get things set up. I cleared some space in the living room and pulled everything out of the box. The initial setup took a bit of time as there are quite a few cords and doohickies to arrange, but after half an hour or so of preparation it was powered up and ready to go. I was nervous as I changed into something a bit more comfortable, but there was no turning back now.
Like most people during their first time, things were a little bit awkward as I got started. It’s not as simple as just slipping it on and doing it, first you have to find the position that feels most comfortable to you. You can do it while standing if you like, but I was worried about tripping and hurting myself so I decided to start off sitting on the couch, at least until I felt a bit more comfortable with how it all worked. It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re in a clear, open area, nothing will put an end to the fun faster than hitting your knee on a table or knocking over a lamp from all of the flailing about.
The headset also takes a bit of time to get positioned just right. You’ve got the main cord that goes between it and the power unit as well as one for your headphones if you’re using them (which I highly recommend). You also need to fiddle with how it’s positioned on your head quite a bit otherwise you’ll have issues with blurriness and light creeping in from the edges. After a bit of trial and error I found that it worked best having the band resting a bit higher on my head like a crown as opposed to down low like a headband. It may sound a bit fidgety to deal with (and it is) but once it was on right and I began… it was beyond anything I could have expected.
The thing that surprised me the most right off bat is just how immersive some of the experiences were. Yes, I know, it is virtual reality, but I still don’t think I was prepared for how strong the sensation was of being in the game. One of the first games I tried was PlayStation VR Worlds, which is a sort of sampler platter of various experiences. From a frightening encounter with a great white shark deep in the ocean, to riding shotgun in a thrilling car chase, I was blown away by how exciting it all was. I found myself instinctively ducking and dodging in reaction to the action around me. I knew that what I was seeing wasn’t real, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have to keep reminding my brain of that over and over.
I also played Batman: Arkham VR which is about as close I’ll ever get to feeling like a real superhero (or a millionaire). The sensation of being perched on a Gotham rooftop and watching the city below is incredible, and playing with all of his cool gadgets was tremendous fun until I tried to throw a batarang at a target and punched my basement ceiling instead. The throbbing in my hand reminded me of how easy it is get lost in these experiences.
Other memorable experiences included Battlezone, which places you at the controls of a tank in different combat arenas and features a fantastic ‘Tron-esque’ aesthetic. Until Dawn:Rush of Blood is a terrifying on-rails shooter that I would highly recommend either wearing a diaper for or at least laying down a few paper towels. And Moss, a fantasy adventure that plays out in front of you like a diorama, allowing you to lean in and peer around corners and behind objects in the environment. There are many other games that I got a taste of and countless which I have yet to see, which I guess is the benefit of getting into virtual reality a couple of years after its release. It’s clear that I’ll have plenty of games to keep me busy for a long time to come.
As I removed the headset after that initial playtime it was a little disorienting and I was even a little light headed. I had almost forgotten where I was or what time it was. When you’re “inside” and can’t see or hear the real world around you, it’s easy to lose track of your sense of time and place. I honestly think for that reason VR is probably better suited for shorter, 30 minute or so experiences as opposed to hours long marathons. And I’m totally fine with that.
It’s been said countless times before, but now that I’ve done it myself I can say it with surety. VR simply must be experienced to truly understand the beauty and potential of the technology. I could talk until I’m blue in the face about how great it is, but it’s impossible to truly understand until you put that headset on yourself for the very first time. Yes, there are improvements that they could make to resolution and ease of use to improve the experience (and hopefully they’ll get a chance to do that in future iterations of the hardware) but even with those minor irritsations I truly believe that this is something that everybody should try and experience.
My first time with virtual reality was something very special and an experience that I’ll always treasure. Now that I know what it’s like I can’t wait to do it again and again, experimenting with the many different ways there are to go about it. I’ll be preaching to all of friends about how amazing it is and how I’d love to show them myself. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and do it as soon as possible. Even if you have to pay $300 for it.