I love VR.
I’ve loved it in all of its bastardised and malformed versions over the years.
The first time I ever played in virtual reality was at the Trocadero in London, and it was the VR iteration that made you stand in a weird, hula-hoop-like machine, clutching a retro flight-sim-style joystick as you aimlessly wandered around a VR world that looked like a kitchen cupboard demo whipped up at a Moben showroom.
“I’m supposed to kill that?” I remember thinking. “But it’s just a random, pointy selection of shapes. I BEAR IT NO ILL.”
It was £4 to play then, which in today’s money is 4.87 billion pounds. This taught me a valuable lesson in life:
New shit is expensive. Cool shit is expensive. New cool shit is very expensive. It’s basic maths.
Even then, I was kinda hooked on the concept. Yes, it was shonky, but I had read the Red Dwarf book ‘Better Than Life’ and somehow that hadn’t put me off either. People falling down stairs and eating their own sick whilst their bodies wasted away playing the game just meant that whatever they were playing must be amazing. And I wanted to play it too.
And as we all know, reality sucks. What has it ever done for us, except promise everything and deliver nothing? (Except pizza.)
We have been burned before with VR, and it wasn’t until I played the PSVR demo The Deep one E3 that I felt that we might be on the cusp of something great again. Those of you that have played it know it’s not the sexiest-looking VR experience, but I did wholeheartedly love the fact that you could add additional sharks, like Arnold Schwartznegger picking from Rekall’s fun pick-list of experiences.
(I wonder if, in the future, you will be able to make the shark demure and sleazy? I mean I am joking, but who’s to say what weird shit we’ll be into in the future? #SharkPorn could be all the rage.)
That demo for The Deep showed me all the realms of experiential possibility that VR could provide. Imagine if you were elderly or bed-ridden, or just couldn’t afford it – you could have a taste of some of the most incredible experiences life has to offer. That is powerful.
It had all the feels of the first time I played with the Wii’s gesture controls. The jump, albeit a clunky one, showed us what gaming was truly supposed to be.
This is how it’s supposed to feel.
Next I remember playing London Heist: a simple demo of driving down a highway and shooting people who try to stop you. You point the gun, just as you would IRL, and shoot things. It was this joining of VR and gesture control together that made me flood my basement.
Ahhh this is how it’s supposed to feel
I mean, I game cos I love fun, I like to feel like a badass, and the controller was always holding us back in so many ways. Now I can do like I would do in life and murder a bunch of people who are chasing me down a public road because I stole their money.
Hold on… well, you get the idea.
The VR titles so far have been a bit hit-and-miss. I don’t tend to get motion sickness generally and there have been some that have made me feel like I was drunk in a children’s playground (shut up, we all have been). I was biding my time a little to play more VR when Beat Saber dropped into my lap.
As an avid fan of music rhythm games (with no musical skill or rhythm to back it up, unfortunately) I was keen to see just how well it could be done now. Standing in my lounge with all breakables sensibly moved to the other side of the room, I loaded it up, honestly not expecting too much from the game.
An hour later, I took my now moisture-laden headset off and looked at my watch: how the f- had an hour passed by? Normally I can only manage very small chunks of time in VR with frequent breaks for tea, biscuits and to post pictures on social media of me playing VR. (If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if no-one is there to click like on it?)
I had gotten so into Beat Saber. I mean, not just making the moves to pass the level, but getting into it with the same enthusiasm of a drunk dad dancing at a wedding: off-beat and suggestively cringy hip rotations combined with arm gestures so unnecessarily wide I could be semaphoring airplanes from my lounge.
Ahhh this is how it’s supposed to feel
It was at this moment I became acutely aware that I have floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to apartments across a busy road, plus a glass balcony, so everyone can see everything that goes on in the flat. My block of flats is also the one that people stare into because they know they can see right into them. A whole abundance of hipster life, giant spider plants and knickers on drying racks to obsess over, should one so desire.
Oh god, I had just been dancing alone in a room (with joyful enthusiasm), whilst playing VR, where everyone can see me. I felt this hot flush of peak nerdiness wash over me. I am the nerdiest person in this entire block of flats. Perhaps even this postcode. I was just doing the equivalent of dancing to your own music on the tube.
(Yes, you’re in the moment. But no-one else is. Everyone else thinks you look like a total tit. And even if they could hear the music they’re probably still think that, because you’re dancing by yourself in the middle of the day on the Victoria line. Nothing can make that look cool.)
I sit down and stare out of the window to consider what just happened.
I feel ashamed that I looked like an idiot.
Why do I feel ashamed?
Because other people might have seen it.
But if no-one saw it, you wouldn’t care, right?
No, not at all.
So the pinch point is other people’s opinions of you? Their judgement of you means that you can’t feel joy for something that gives you joy?
Well, that is bullshit.
This is NOT how it’s supposed to feel.
We are stripped of our joy, of being truly free, because of what we think other people think about us.
And this is exactly why reality sucks.
Virtual reality, on the other hand…