For the most part, the hype surrounding VR has confused me. Donning a doofy-looking headset and flailing around my living room seemed silly to me. The games looked ugly and uninteresting. I couldn’t wrap my head around why this was a thing. Then I finally tried it and now I can’t wait to have one in my home.
Last night, following Sony’s E3 conference, they hosted an afterparty with a line-up of VR demos. I queued up and waited for my turn. I wasn’t allowed to select my demo, and there were around 10 different demos available. The demo I played was titled The London Heist. In it, you’re the passenger in a getaway car responsible for fending off attackers.
The setup was complicated. The PlayStation rep coaching me on how to play put my headset on, followed by a pair of headphones, then finally handed me two PS move controllers, one for each hand. When the demo started I was staring at a title screen. It was a bit blurry, and I was convinced that there was no way I could feel the immersion others claim to feel when they play VR games based on the quality of the visuals alone.
I was very, very wrong.
The minute I got into the car everything changed. I started exploring the car, flipping down the visor, grabbing my soda, looking at the driver. It seemed interesting but I wasn’t yet hooked. Then, the PlayStation rep offered a helpful a suggestion. “Try opening the door and leaning out,” he said. I followed his suggestion and that’s when it clicked for me. Doing that made me feel really, actually nervous. I instinctively slammed the door shut, as though it posed some real danger to me.
Before I had time to collect myself, the first enemies appeared. The driver tossed me a gun and it was time to get into it. I grabbed my gun and tried to help the driver punch out the windshield. It didn’t work, and I thought this is where things would break for me. Instead, I instantly became obsessed with fending off my attackers.
Before long I was no longer thinking about being a person sitting down wearing a headset. I was worried more about falling out of the car. I was instinctively reaching out to grab hold of things that weren’t there to support myself as I leaned out to get a better shot at my pursuers. I was feverishly reaching for clips and reloading without looking as I kept an eye on the threats surrounding the car.
As I was shooting tires out of motorcycles and killing endless waves of gangsters, everything else faded away. I didn’t remember that I was in a crowded theater, or that I was sitting on a couch. I didn’t think about how I must have looked to those not playing with me. And I certainly didn’t think about the visual fidelity of what was looking at. I was a part of that world for those eight minutes, and I can’t wait to go back.
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