When I first heard about VR, I imagined rapturous, solitary immersion. It was a chance to visit fantastical landscapes and worlds that surely could never exist in real life. The possibilities sounded spectacular, and, quite frankly, isolating.
I got hold of PlayStation VR a little while ago. It costs too much, and it needs more games. It’s really pretty creepy knowing that a camera is watching you the whole time. I’ve tripped over coffee tables and accidentally punched the wall. I’m learning that our living room really isn’t big enough for the future. Nevertheless, VR is impressive, and not at all in the way I thought it was going to be.
My grandparents came around the other day. They spent the afternoon cowering away from great white sharks. That’s why VR is so exciting. What initially seemed to be a distinctly lonely experience has proven, instead, to be a deeply social one.
The initial wonder as somebody first dons the Saw-trap headset is always heart-warming. I take the games I enjoy much too seriously. I think about carefully plotted stories, and the effects of player agency. I love games in the way I love books and films: critically. Oftentimes I forget to just smile, and laugh, and play. That’s the key to PSVR: play.
Watching people in the headset, especially those who don’t play videogames very often, reminds me of just how magical this technology can be. The opportunity to watch family, friends, and loved-ones scream in delight as that oh-so-real spaceship leaps out from the darkness is truly special.
In ‘The Playroom’, a collection of short, strange PSVR experiences, there’s a multiplayer game called ‘Monster Escape’. In it you play a giant lizard who eats buildings by head-butting them. At the same time your friends are little robots, running away from the destruction, laughing as you swing your head wildly. Another game, ‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes,’ encourages a room full of friends to yell obscenities at one another in a desperate attempt to defuse a bomb. The player in VR must carry out instructions s/he cannot see. It’s up to everybody else to decipher a user manual, and relay the most vital information before time runs out. All the best experiences in VR are like this. Communal, silly, and anything but isolating. PSVR is social, and hilarious, and as good a time as some of the very best board games I’ve played.
And it is incredible. It really is. The sense of place, the sense of being. Suffice to say that everyone I’ve attached it to tries to reach out and touch the digital world around them at least once or twice (before realising that they have no arms in virtual reality). As a jumping off point for what might be possible in the future, PSVR is extremely exciting. But so far, it’s a social product, for me at least. When I’m on my own, I barely touch the thing. When friends are over, however, it’s an entirely different matter. That, for me, is where PSVR just about earns its price tag.