I discovered VR, someone please help me! I’m now in my sixties, and a couple of months before this pandemic hit I bought an Oculus Quest. This has turned out to be one of the best, worst and strangest experiences of my life. Allow me to explain.
I have played video games alone and with my daughters for much of my life (they always destroyed me, no matter what the game; no mercy for Dad). I was expecting something similar to video games when I discovered VR; not so much. The first time I put on the VR headset, I was blown away. I’m sitting in my home office chair, a couple of feet from my desk, and all of a sudden I’m in a completely different place; 360 degrees of a whole new world. I became instantly disoriented. I’ve been disoriented before, but never like this. My wife was sitting nearby, and I spoke to her, hoping she would answer and confirm that ‘Elvis had not left the building’.
When the program began, I couldn’t find the desk or toys that were described as part of the training exercise. As it turned out, I was sitting facing the wrong direction in the virtual room. Once I swiveled my chair 180 degrees, I found the desk, blocks, dirigible, paper airplanes and other virtual implements put there to teach me how to use the controllers. I flew the paper airplanes and dirigible, picked up and threw the blocks, and eventually I even danced with a friendly robot. It all seemed so real that, tired from the exercise, I leaned my elbow on the virtual desk to rest; not a good idea. Much to my surprise, my elbow passed right through the desk and collided with my right knee. Lesson number one, things in the VR world are NOT solid. (I can hear my daughters, “No duh, Dad. No duh!”).
Concerned that a swiveling office chair on rollers might not be the safest of bases for my first VR adventure, I moved to the sofa. Being an older fella, and not as adventurous as I once was, I started with something safe. I took a virtual tour of Scotland, riding in an old VW bug. At this point, I was very glad I discovered VR. My wife and I had the same model VW when we were young, and I felt right at home. I loved this beautiful ride along the water and through very old towns and fishing villages. I thought this was the best thing since sliced bread, and I was delighted I discovered VR. Then I moved on.
Still not feeling ready to try one of the action games, I ventured into another tour, this time a ride with the Swiss version of the Blue Angels. I found myself in the back seat of a Swiss fighter jet. This was awesome, right up until the time the pilot, obviously unaware that he had a sixty-plus-year-old copilot, started doing barrel rolls and loop-de-loops. My couch started spinning out of control. My eyes closed, and I came close to passing out. Fortunately, I remembered this was a virtual world and removed my head set. The sofa continued to spin for a couple of minutes, but eventually held still as my mind processed the transition from virtual fighter pilot to actual couch jockey.
The fighter pilot experience left me a little less thrilled that I discovered VR. However, even at sixty-plus I’m still a guy, with a few molecules of testosterone floating around. This is the only explanation I can come up with as to why I continued my VR journey. “I discovered VR, and I owe it to myself to keep going.” (That was definitely the damn testosterone talking, because my heart rate and blood pressure were arguing “Stop it, idiot. You’re gonna die.”)
Those few droplets of testosterone won the argument, and I tried the roller coaster ride. I clicked on the roller coaster icon, and next thing I know my couch is climbing to the top of the first hill of a very tall roller coaster. Heart rate increased. Check! Blood pressure up. Check! Then the bottom dropped out from under my couch, the roller coaster is flying downhill, hits the first loop-de-loop and goes into a spin. Once again, my couch is barrel-rolling out of control, my head is spinning, I close my eyes, yank off the headset, open my eyes and wait for my home office and couch to hold still. My wife, sitting in a nearby easy chair, said “Are you okay? You look a little pale. Maybe you should stop whatever it is you’re doing.”
“I’m fine, Dear. This is incredibly realistic, and lots of fun. I just took a roller coaster ride.”
“Dear, you look a little woozy. Please don’t throw up on the sofa.”
I explained to her that I was fine and having a blast. Perhaps I just hadn’t found the right VR experience for me yet. But, that roller coaster wasn’t going to defeat me; I was not done with it yet. So I clicked on an icon showing a VR experience of climbing Mount Everest (maybe I’d go back to the roller coaster after my stomach settled). What could go wrong with a trip up Mount Everest? I discovered VR, and I was going to enjoy it.
The Mount Everest experience began at the bottom (makes sense). The snow-covered mountain was beautiful and peaceful. But, much as with the Swiss pilot, this climber didn’t realize that his partner was a sixty-something man sitting on his couch at home. The VR world abruptly changed, and my climber friend and I found ourselves free-climbing a frozen waterfall. When I/we looked down, my couch was several thousand feet in the air. Heart rate way up. Check! Blood pressure up, up, up! Check! The climber was fine. My couch and I closed my eyes, shook my head a couple of times, tried to convince my ass that it was actually sitting on my couch, and we were able to open my eyes again and continue, with only moderate terror.
The climber must not have thought my couch and I were sufficiently scared, so we moved on. The scene shifted again, and this time we found ourselves at the top of Everest, standing on a precipice looking down into a 25,000-foot abyss. Still not sufficient, the climber hauls my couch and me out onto an overhang, with nothing between us and the abyss but a small outcropping of rock.
In my mind, my couch went into free-fall, I swallowed my heart to keep it in my chest and my blood pressure, well…let’s just say there was full-blown terror. I closed my eyes, yanked off the headset and my couch and I remained in free-fall for several seconds before crashing down onto the floor of my home office. When my head cleared, I looked over at my wife, and she was reading a book, oblivious to the fact that I had just fallen off of one of the tallest mountains in the world. I politely interrupted her and asked if she wouldn’t mind paying attention, in case it became necessary for her to dial 911.
My wife just shook her head and said, “Perhaps you should stop playing with your VR toy, before you stroke out. This doesn’t seem all that safe for someone your age. And, you haven’t even played any of the games yet?”
How could she be so callous, so unconcerned, so…right? I hadn’t even played a VR action game yet, and already my couch and I had spun out of control and crashed several times, leaving me exhausted. But, I discovered VR, and I was determined…to what…have fun? Die trying? Fall off the couch? The logical thing, the intelligent thing to do was to sell the VR headset or give it to one of my adult children.
Next day, I purchased my first VR game, Gun Club VR, a target shooting game. I enjoy target shooting. I would be holding the virtual rifles and pistols. How could this go wrong? Well, for starters, one had to stand up to play this game. You outlined a guard in the virtual world to prevent yourself from running into walls, furniture, lamps or falling down the stairs in your real house while playing in your virtual world. No problem. I installed the game, entered the virtual gun club, set the guard (standing next to the couch) and chose my weapon.
I found myself in a warehouse, standing on a virtual loading dock approximately 10 feet off the ground, and my virtual feet were very close to the virtual edge. Bad guys kept popping up throughout the warehouse on various platforms and structures, and if I didn’t immediately dispatch them they would take aim and shoot at me. I’m a good shot, and able to hit many of the targets, but my eyes kept wandering back to that 10-foot drop. In addition to the stress of being shot at by bad guys, I found myself increasingly afraid I would fall off of that loading dock.
Now, I’m a reasonably intelligent man (my wife might argue this point). Intellectually speaking, I knew that I was actually standing on the floor of my living room, and there was no real loading dock or 10-foot drop. By way of experimentation, I tried to convince my brain to move my real right foot out over the virtual empty space at the edge of the virtual loading dock and step out into the virtual air, confident (not so much) that my foot would find the real floor of my living room.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince my foot to take this action. I kept firing at the bad guys as they popped up, my eyes kept wandering back to that drop-off, and eventually I stumbled forward and had to immediately remove the headset before I fell the virtual 10 feet. I discovered VR, and damn it seems real (guess that’s why it’s called virtual REALITY?).
Then came the zombies. In this game, I was able to enter another area where virtual zombies attacked, growling as they approached virtual you in a virtual rush. Oh boy! I got so excited I kept forgetting to reload, and they kept reaching virtual me, virtually tearing virtual me apart and eating my brain (I think that part was in my imagination, not actually in the game). At this point, my wife suggested I might want to take my blood pressure, but I told her it was probably best if I didn’t know the numbers. I was virtually certain of that. After the zombies ate my brain several times, I decided to try another game.
In spite of the dangers related to blowing up my real cardiovascular system, there are some wonderful aspects to this VR game. The real apocalypse (Corona-virus rather than zombie) is upon us and we are quarantined. My youngest daughter, twenty-five, resides in New York City, the US epicenter of this horrible debacle. It’s going to be a while before my wife and I get to see her again in person.
I discovered that with the Oculus Quest I can join my daughter in various multiplayer virtual worlds where we can talk while racing go-carts, slaying orcs and dragons or participating in wild west gunfights in saloons and on the street of an old western town. This has provided me with a great deal of joy, and some stress, and even a little pain, over the past few weeks.
We started with the VR Karts racing game. It was great to see my daughter, or her avatar, as a helmeted racer sitting in a colorful go-cart. We chatted and raced for over an hour, at which point I was dizzy and my vision was blurring. The racing game is fun, you can blow up your opponents to slow them down, and I never won a race the entire night (I did blow up a lot). It did bring up some PTSD from when I used to play video games with her when she was a child. No mercy for dad back then, or now.
Worse, there are many obstacles to crash into in the game, and I’m guessing I hit them all at one point or another. While it is all virtual, no real damage to the avatar or car, I couldn’t help flinching and my head flopping forward when I crashed into something. So there actually was some pain.
Next time we played, we chose the Elvyn Assassin game. You can play this game sitting down, so my couch was my friend again. In this one, we played as a team, defending various villages from attacking orcs and dragons using a bow and arrow.
Problem is, you can transport between five different positions outside the village from which to fight the attackers, and some of these perches are high in the air. Jumping from one spot to another could be quite disorienting to my couch and me. However, this game was especially awesome because our avatars could actually kind of, sort of give each other a hug. That was nice, since it’s going to be a long time before we get to do that in person, and ours is a hugging family.
We chose a village to defend and started the game. She killed most of the attacking orcs and dragons, while I spent most of my time dodging, and getting killed by axes and fire from flying dragons. When you shoot an orc carrying an axe, he has the audacity to throw his axe at you, or your avatar. It might be virtual, but it sure looks and feels real, so real that at one point I ducked so low to avoid a flying axe that I hit my head on the arm of the couch. You might say that my couch attacked me. The axe might have been virtual, but the pain in my head was real.
This game continues until enough orcs and dragons penetrate the gates of the village to kill all the villagers. My daughter was a great protector of the villagers; me not so much. You get points for each orc and dragon you slay, and the final scores were always something like daughter 450, dad 25, but we had fun and got to talk a lot about life, living through the world’s worst pandemic. The good part, no pandemic in Elvyn world, just lethal axes and dragons, and they were virtual (except for the arm of my couch).
We bought a new game that we’re just starting to figure out called Dead and Buried II. It looks like it’s going to be lots of fun, and I expect to die a lot as we fight those western bad guys. I’m a fairly well coordinated guy in the real world; I was a pretty good athlete in my younger day. But, I’m a bit of a klutz in the virtual world. If you don’t believe me, just ask my daughter, although I never once accidentally shot her with an arrow.
Yes, I discovered VR. What an amazing invention. It brought me fun, fear, terror, disorientation in my own home, potential stroke, heart attack and the joy of spending time with my daughter in spite of this damn pandemic, and all while sitting on my couch. But the best part, the most important part, is the almost feeling of those virtual hugs from my daughter in the Elvyn world. Until this pandemic is over, it doesn’t get any better than that.
If you liked this blog post, you might also enjoy my book, PLEASURIA: TAKE AS DIRECTED, a comedy murder mystery available on Amazon at http://bit.ly/pleasuria. The publisher reduced the price to $0.99, in anticipation of the upcoming sequel.