There was a local arcade called FunScape that I went to in the mid-to-late 90s. This place had everything—bumper cars, minigolf. It was connected to a movie theater and had the widest selection of games in the area. But most importantly, FunScape had a VR station. Through some searching, I found out that system was called “Virtuality” (not like the movie) and was created by the appropriately named Virtuality Group. The one game FunScape had was called Grid Busters, a robot shooter game, and I never got to play it. I’m still a little salty about that.
I was fascinated by the low-fi VR station as a kid. At the time, I had a Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and a computer that could kind of play games. This VR machine was unlike anything else. I could be fully immersed in the game, I thought. I could be a VR Trooper or a Lawnmower Man or a Time Cop!
But that time never came. FunScape shut down before I was old enough to drive myself there or had the money to spend. Cut to about 18 years later and one of my friend sells me an extra Samsung Gear VR headset to use. It was finally my time to experience VR. The weird childhood dream I had was finally coming true. And…
First Taste of the Past
I wasn’t disappointed! Sure, it was relatively simple and completely devoured the battery life on my Note 5, but it was VR! I bought a few games, downloaded a few free apps, and strapped the damn thing to my face. I brought it to my family and friends, showing off apps that allowed you to travel the universe, or a game where you shoot a metal ball to break glass. I even bought a bluetooth controller to play a game on my cellphone.
But then I got a new phone and the VR was gone. Again.
Let’s do another cut, this time to 2018. The PlayStation VR is on sale for $100 off. And I’m a man with $200 and the PlayStation 4 necessary to play it. So I did what I needed to do and splurged on that headset. It came with a copy of Skyrim VR, but I also bought SUPERHOT VR, Job Simulator, and Rez Infinite. Now on the face of it, those games aren’t particularly complicated. SUPERHOT is a series of first-person shooters where time only moves when you do (or at least moves very slowly until you do). While the original game is one of my favorites of all time, the VR version is a sight to behold.
Physically plucking an enemy’s weapon out of their hand, blocking bullets, cutting shots in half, or throwing a weapon into some red, crystalline mannequin of a man in VR is a whole other thing. Throwing your whole body into a game is a completely different, more intuitive experience than sitting in front of a TV or at a computer desk. Feeling physically tired from beating a game has its own weird satisfaction separate just playing the game itself.
A Whole New World
Like SUPERHOT, I’d played vanilla Rez before—way back when on some PS2 demo disc. I thought it was interesting at the time, but it never truly caught my attention the way its cult and critical fans talk about. But sitting in my completely dark room, totally enclosed in this wireframe world, aiming at passing ships while music thumped all around me was the height of video game captivation. It’s easy to get lost when you can’t see the outside world.
Even when the controls aren’t 100 percent perfect, or the visuals are a little muddy, I still feel some special way about virtual reality. I have over 200 hours in Skyrim on Steam. I never need or want to play that standard game again. Throw that whole world in VR, however, where I can swing my arms and bash a man in the face with a shield, and I will definitely play more Skyrim.
The opening moments never felt fresher. I couldn’t look away from my screen as “my” head rested on the iconic butcher’s block. Now, beyond that, it is still pretty much the same game. It’s just nice to have a feeling of newness surround something I’ve spent a combined week and half’s worth of time with.
Built From the Ground Up
And then you have games built specifically for VR: Job Simulator, Rec Room, and Raw Data. I don’t even think these games would be anything special without virtual reality. If they were just games you approximated action in with a controller, or even motion controllers, I don’t know how special they would be.
In Job Simulator, you take up the role of someone in a museum in the year 2050, simulating (naturally) jobs of the current day and age. Playing as the clerk of a fake 7-11 sounds incredibly boring, but picking up random items in the environment and bouncing them off a customer’s head is just a small shot of pure joy.
Rec Room is a free collection of multiplayer games, which is once again not a big deal. But playing paintball—a simulation of a simulation, with all the physical ducking and weaving of the real thing—against people halfway around the world, in this cutesy art style, is a ton of fun. Raw Data is a wave-based shooter (which completely flood the VR games market), but teleporting around a room to pop the heads off robots is a chef’s kiss in video game form.
Then there’s Beat Saber and Tetris Effect.
Beat Saber is a rhythm game where you hit red and blue boxes to the beat of the music. Like the other games, there’s not much to the game part. But there’s a lot going on with my mind and body as I contort to catch each projectile.
I hate going to the gym. I generally hate doing exercises, too, but you know what I do love? Beat Saber. That game gets me moving in ways I normally don’t, usually coming out of a play session with dripping sweat off my face.
Tetris Effect, another heavily music-infused game, is beautiful outside of VR, but it’s mesmerizing within it. The visuals of each level—whether it be atop a snowy mountain, inside a space station, under the water, or any of the game’s other unique environments—create a relaxing thrum that I wish my brain felt every day and all the time.
Virtual reality isn’t exactly perfect. There are still weird tracking issues and a lot of the actual games are just shooters. It’s prohibitively expensive in more ways than one, too. Who has a place big enough to set aside 10 square feet of play space?
But it’s the amazing, ridiculous, cyberpunk-esque dream my little 10-year-old self hoped it would be. Every time I play some VR game, or do some short VR experience, or even watch some some video, it feels special. And it’s not every day your childhood dreams live up to your expectations. I hope anyone who wants to gets to experience this dream come true, too.