I have never been much of a gamer. Even when I was younger, I preferred watching movies and reading chapter books to playing the games my friends and older cousins were playing. The thing was — and is, unfortunately — that playing video games has never come naturally to me. When my parents bought me my first PlayStation 2, the only games I got for myself were adventure games like "Super Mario Bros." and "Rayman" because they were simple and straight-forward enough to get myself fully immersed in the experience and still enjoy myself. That didn't mean I was any good, though. Meanwhile, my older cousins excelled at games. They played everything from "World of Warcraft" to "Street Fighter" and "Halo." I settled on watching them play through all of these amazing games that were constantly changing the video game industry, and wishing the day would come when I could finally gain magical gaming skills.
Most of what I know about games comes from years of watching my cousins and younger brother play them on our television screen. Even though I wasn’t playing I still felt a part of the experience because I could see and hear everything a player would. I was just not in control of the world.
Fast forwarding to 2016, my Introduction to Film and Media Studies class assigned the class to play — and complete — a computer game as a homework assignment. I had not played, or “watched,” a video game in years! How was I going to do this without the help of my brother or my cousins? Needless to say, it did not go well. It took me days to complete a game that probably could have been completed in about 2 hours. But at least I did it, right?
The next assignment was to play a game in Virtual Reality. I could only imagine it would be similar to a 4-D movie I had seen in Disney World. I thought it would look pretty cool visually and I would appreciate the technological innovational aspect of it, but it wouldn't feel real. Boy, was I wrong.
Let me attempt to describe the indescribable experience that is VR. As soon as you put on the goggles, your reality changes. It feels as though somehow the world you just left, the world you’ve grown up in, the only world you have ever known, has been a lie and suddenly, you’ve only now reached the “real world.” How freaky is that? My first reaction was, of course, to curse really loudly and try to take off the goggles. I could not do this. It did not feel like my brain could handle it. I was wrong again.
Luckily I had two friends from the class with me who were encouraging me to continue. They reassured me that if I needed to I could just take off the goggles and headphones and come back to them. The thing I wasn't expecting is that I wouldn't want to take them off. In one game, I walked around in an office and touched items and teleported and killed robots with my bare hands. In another I could look down from mountains and walk across graveyards. With my heart racing and my adrenaline going, I kept playing not just because it was my homework assignment but because, deep down, I was really enjoying myself.
Here was a game I could “watch” as much as I could play, and the playing aspect was actually playable for a non-gamer. Here was a game where I did not have to remember twenty different button controls or combinations. Here was a game where it was okay not to know what’s going on every step of the way because the experience of being in a virtual reality is already confusing and overwhelming enough. Here was a game where I really had to focus on getting to the next step, otherwise my life was on the line—literally. I was learning the rules of the game not because I needed them to win per se but because I wanted to understand the rules of this new world I was in.
When I took off the goggles, our world did not feel as real and tangible as the virtual world I had just left. In total, I’ve played about ten different games in the span of a month and not one of them has resembled the other in the slightest. They have each been their own amazing, mind-blowing experiences. They’ve given me a whole new appreciation for video games and game design I just didn’t have before. For the first time, I get to actually enjoy playing something as much as I enjoy the story and visuals.
I think it is safe to say that VR has changed my life. If you ever have the chance to try out VR, I would definitely recommend you give it a go, even if you’re not a gamer. Some VR games are completely free on Steam and other PC gaming platforms. Another, probably more affordable, option is Google Cardboard.
Google now offers these cardboard goggles in their store that you can use to view 360-degree videos on YouTube and other platforms, like The New York Times, as well as using them for specially designed apps. All you have to do is place your smartphone into a slot inside the goggles, put on your headphones, and press play. How easy is that?
Give VR a chance and it will change your life