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The Best Thing About VR Isn’t Immersion, It’s Human Error

VR is still a long way from what we see in films like Ready Player One, but it’s improving constantly. As immersive as console and PC games can be, nothing quite measures up to the complete sensory override of a VR headset. Putting one on is like jacking into the Matrix itself – I briefly feel like a cyborg and genuinely get quite disoriented when I’m pulled out.

I recently played the newly enhanced Arizona Sunshine on an Oculus Quest 2 and realized that although the immersion was great, it wasn’t the best thing about the experience. The best thing about VR is making mistakes.

VR headsets can be quite pricey, but I’m fortunate enough to live with an XR developer – that just means he does virtual, augmented, and any other kind of reality stuff you can think of – who is loaned headsets from work. He recently brought a Quest 2 home and we gave it a spin in the kitchen. We did some experience games, one where you walk on a plank hanging off the side of a skyscraper. I gingerly stepped off and my entire stomach lurched up into my throat as I dropped, it was horrifying. That’s what the immersion often does to me, makes me feel a little sick.

So, he showed me Arizona Sunshine, a zombie shooter that wouldn’t make me want to vomit. A lot of these VR games feel like arcade games like House of the Dead, which is by no means a bad thing. They’re great fun and make me feel like a kid again. What really sets them apart, though, is the ability to completely mess something up. In any other game, you press a button and you reload, or press a button to melee hit an enemy. Well, not in VR. Not in Arizona Sunshine. In this game, you move your hand down to where your belt would be, and that pops a magazine in your hand. You then have to jam it up into the gun you’re using. Now, obviously, the game does give you a bit of leeway, you don’t need to be pixel perfect. However, even aiming the gun the right way up is difficult when you’ve got a horde of zombies coming straight at you.

An action as simple in many games as reloading is turned into a nerve-wracking test of dexterity and mettle. My hands were shaking from the adrenaline of feeling like I was actually about to be attacked and so I didn’t put the magazine in properly and I got eaten. This may sound like a nuisance, but it really isn’t – it adds a level of depth that other games rarely have. Sure, some games let you reload quicker if you hit a button again at the right time, but few punish you as hard as VR games do. Even swinging a weapon can go wrong if you don’t swing properly. Want to take a cricket bat to a zombie’s brains Shaun of the Dead style? You’d better actually swing that thing.

Adding real consequences to our mistakes and mistimed actions is such a great way to make us think while we play. I once went to my housemate’s work and got to try a prototype glove that could stiffen to mimic the feeling of actually grabbing something. However, I got my hand stuck behind something in the game, and even after freeing it was unable to close my fist, so there’s definitely still some bugs to be worked out of this kind of technology. That being said, the ideas are there, and for the most part, they’re being implemented well. Maybe we’re not as far away from a full-body suit that simulates the pain of being kicked in the nads as we thought.

Next: Oculus Quest 2 Hand Tracking Has So Much Untapped Potential

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Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in the UK. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.

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