Just when I was getting used to real reality, virtual reality arrived.
My sister gave our 15 year old son a virtual reality headset for Christmas. It’s called Oculus Quest 2, and when you strap it on your head, it looks like a pair of giant binoculars are trying to eat your face.
I’ve been reading about VR for years, so was excited to try out Oculus Quest 2, but not before other family members took their shots. If playing VR made you look stupid – as I suspected – I wanted others to laugh first.
“There are 10 games inside,” my sister announced as the 15-year-old excitedly opened the package.
“I don’t think there are any games inside,” I say a few minutes later, reading the fine print on the box. “It says here under the images of the games, ‘Games not included.’
“Oh, sorry,” she said.
If you think about it, that makes perfect sense. The whole point of selling VR machines is to make money from VR games. Google has confirmed that there are indeed free VR games to download, but not the best ones. If VR games were ice cream, the pistachio would be free but the chocolate would be $50.
My wife quickly grabbed a free VR game that uses mapping software to take you around the world.
“I’m outside our house,” she announced at one point, then a few minutes later, adding, “Wow, our garage door is open. Now I’m in Japan.”
“Good,” I said.
“I asked him to take me somewhere random, and it took me somewhere like Alabama,” she said.
I thought to myself, “Visiting Lick Skillet, Alabama, in VR is probably free, but I bet Paris, France is about $500.”
After an hour or two of watching people ogling the Oculus, I was ready to take my turn. Our 15 year old positioned the head straps on my bald spot and fitted the controllers to my hands.
“OK, I’m not impressed,” I announced immediately.
I was honest. I expected Oculus to take me to another world – a place I would never want to return to. Instead, I felt like I had been given two shots of tequila and pushed inside the 1982 movie “Tron.”
“I thought that would be better,” I muttered, trying to slice through a bunch of colored boxes with my lightsabers.
“Some people just don’t want to be entertained,” my wife noted.
My game was called Beat Saber and involved digital swordplay set to music. I found it mildly enjoyable for about five minutes, then I was done. I tried to get him to play “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, but I couldn’t figure out how.
I downloaded a free drum simulator and felt like I was playing in a vat of Jell-O.
Our eldest son, 20, who was home from college, tried Beat Saber and immediately scored a million points. He declared victory and left.
It left the 15-year-old enjoying his toy. Within hours, he had downloaded a game that allowed him to box, one-on-one, against friends who had received the same VR set for Christmas.
In the night, I heard him upstairs jumping everywhere. At some point, I went up to see him.
“Are you okay,” I said. “You’re sweating.”
He explained that he had just boxed his best friend – and his entire family – one by one.
“It was fun ?” I asked.
“That was awesome,” he said, cheeks flushed.
That’s when it hit me. Big tech knows its audience. I bet the VR industry, at the moment, knows their target audience is 15 year old boys who need to burn some energy.
By the time technology advances enough to captivate adults, I’ll probably be long gone.
Which is just as well. Petting my dog, eating a cookie and watching football is all I need.
Email Mark Kennedy at [email protected]