I cannot believe we live in an age with the audacity to bring back a technology that was cool in the early 90’s. I remember going to an arcade where a boy was strapped into a VR headset, surrounded by a mini guard rail and standing on a platform. He looked so cool. The game he was playing looked like “man shoots 90’s pterodactyls while standing on a cheesy checkerboard.” You could play that game for $5. Now kids don’t have to spend that much to imitate their favorite Lawnmower Man character. Or do they…
VR is making a giant comeback, and Sony, HTC, Samsung, Steam, Apple and Android are ushering it in as the next big way to play video games. Let me remind you that bodily movements with remotes was the last big way that would change games, and I haven’t seen that in awhile (RIP Kinect and PS Move).
I opted for the cheaper brand. After seeing a set of VR googles at Walmart for $14.99, I decided it would be harmless to try. I bought the VueFX, which was nothing more than a head-strap and a container to hold your phone. I thought to myself, “There’s no way that a $14.99 cell phone holder and head-strap could be flawed.”
Upon taking it home, I realized that my phone was too big for the spring-loaded mechanism that is supposed to hold it. Even though the box clearly states that it can hold up to 6-inch phones, my LG Stylo had many problems. It did eventually fit, but, comically, the spring would lose grip with my phone and it would catapult out like a poorly-made Wile E. Coyote contraption. I actually think VueFX made the very first cell phone launcher by accident.
Next was the games. I had an Android phone, which promised that I would get unending apps for free. I decided to take them up on that offer. Before I go into the games and apps, be warned that you can have the wrong headset and the wrong phone for VR. My phone was not gyroscopic, which means that I was barred from many head-tracking apps. My headset did not have an action button, which means that if a game required hitting a button, I was out of luck. In some cases, I could use a bluetooth controller, but those were rare. Many of the games did absolutely nothing because I lacked the 3rd party equipment to make them function. Full Dive makes most of the premium apps for VR, and I could not use them at all. Google Cardboard has a starter app for VR users, and my Google Playstore said I was incompatible. Note to self: Technology hates your 1-year-old phone.
My first game was Zombie VR by Fibrum. You travel down an abandoned subway and stare at zombies while a gun shoots automatically. It reminded me of Goldeneye if someone removed the thumbstick, C-buttons, and the Z button. Since I did not have a gyroscopic phone my head movements could never really lock onto the zombies. I was dead within 2 minutes. It was a free game.
I tried The Cave VR. This was a relaxing stroll through a cave. Once again, no gyroscope meant that I had to work extra hard to change the camera angle. I walked into this spooky cave starring at a wall for most of it.
Most free apps in the store had a replay value of 2 minutes. I could either be on a 30-second roller coaster, stare at fish, play tennis with my face, peruse a haunted house, or fly in the galaxy. There were some apps that I didn’t even finish the demo of, because I got bored. I was really hoping to go to sleep to a relaxing beach or to pretend to sit in a movie theater while I watch Netflix. That technology has not been released yet for phones. I read that VR is going to be a replacement for anesthesia in some operations, but I really hope they don’t use Android apps. The closest I could get to my dreams is watching a Youtube 3rd-party app that kept asking me for money and a virtual tour of a Turkish Bathroom. I am not falling asleep to a Turkish bathroom!
There were other apps that I was afraid to get. You can virtually lay your head on the lap of an anime girl. You can watch some anime character dance for hours. (I now understand why my parents wanted me to stay away from that culture.) Android VR, at its entry level, is not more than a quick distraction and a show-off to your friends. I think my 3-year-old niece kept it on the longest when I showed her the undersea dolphin app.
This also raises questions as to why the world thinks they need this technology. It seems like humanity is begging to be alone and isolated. We used to have same-couch multi-player. Now we have different-house, online multiplayer; and, finally, we are getting personal headset, “leave-me-alone” single player. Not to forget that this is also the equivalent of duct-taping your TV to your eyelids. I don’t think we thought this through for the future of our health.
I should have known better than to jump into Android’s entry-level VR. This is the same store that tries to repackage apps with the words: craft, mine, call, of, duty, battle, field, zombie, nazi. I recommend you stay far away from this technology until it gets the serious attention it needs.