I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember. So when the Oculus Rift was first announced in May 2015, I was excited to say the least.
The Oculus Rift was a pioneer in virtual reality (VR) gaming with the intent of bringing the player inside the game.
VR has been proclaimed by many experts in the gaming community to be the future of video games, a future that a typical joystick and button controller can’t compete with.
VR was the first step toward a truly immersive experience: something players have longed for for decades. But with a steep entry price and poor consumer-grade products on the market, VR was not practical.
But now, after two years of being on the market, VR has finally become affordable and accessible to the general public.
So to see if VR truly lived up to its hype, I set off to Zion VR (1140 Exposition Blvd., no. 600), a virtual reality game center, with my most knowledgeable video-game-loving friends: sophomore Benett Sackheim and juniors Harkirat Lally, Miles Edwards and my brother Bryce.
Zion allows for booking only by the hour. Since we didn’t know if one hour would be enough to truly experience all VR has to offer, we opted for two.
You can book directly through Zion’s easy-to-navigate website by selecting the number of stations and a time slot. The stations are set up like bowling lanes, except each person needs their own “lane” to play.
It costs $30 for one station, $55 for two and $27.50 per station for three or more.
They recommend showing up 15 minutes prior to your reservation to get accustomed to the VR controllers and headsets.
When we arrived, owner Sean Le greeted us and took us to a station for a demonstration. He walked through the controls and configured our headsets to let us talk to each other in-game.
Although Zion has over 40 games, we wanted to start by playing Super Hot, a fighting game in which the game’s speed is dictated by how fast you move in real life.
And it was a great choice. It is one of the few games where the player controls the movement in-game by moving their body.
As we got into Super Hot, it was clear our experience with traditional video games didn’t translate to VR.
“How do I grab the ninja star?” Harkirat asked.
“I don’t know,” Benett said. “I just grabbed the gun.”
“How did that hit me?” Bryce shouted through the microphone. “I can’t get past this level.”
“It’s like ‘The Matrix,’” I replied. “If you move slowly, you can dodge the bullets.”
“Wow! That’s crazy!” Bryce said as he dodged and weaved like Neo from “The Matrix.”
“How do I get into the game?” Miles asked, still struggling to figure out how to load in.
I took off my headset and went to his station to help him. As I walked past Benett’s station, I saw him crouched over on his knees.
“What are you doing?” I yelled so he could hear me over his headset.
“Ducking behind cover,” he replied, still trying to maintain focus.
Over the next 30 minutes, we all became proficient at knife throwing and dodging in slow motion.
Then we decided to move to Zion’s most popular game, Arizona Sunshine, which has a two-player campaign and a four-person zombie survival mode called Horde.
Harkirat, Miles, Bryce and I opted to start with Horde. After we loaded into the game, we were dropped into a canyon with a scoreboard counting down.
“10! 9! 8!” the in-game announcer boomed.
“What do we do?” I shouted, panicking.
“Pick up the ammo on the ground,” Harkirat replied.
“I can’t grab it,” I said, the ammo being just out of reach.
“You have to get on the ground,” he explained.
I knelt down and picked up a clip, but I couldn’t load my gun. There was no button to load.
“You have to load it like you would in real life,” Harkirat said.
And that’s what makes Arizona Sunshine so popular: it truly is a virtual reality.
So I loaded my gun and prepared to fight the incoming hordes of zombies.
“Watch out!” Harkirat screamed. “I’m throwing a grenade.”
“Shoot the propane barrels,” Benett advised. “They do more damage than the grenades.”
Each zombie killed meant we were closer to the next round. But each sequential round just meant more zombies trying to kill us.
“I’m out of ammo!” Harkirat shouted over the microphone.
Click. I continued pulling my trigger, but nothing happened. I was out of ammunition as well.
“Does anyone have ammo?” Benett said.
“Nope,” Bryce replied, sensing our impending doom.
It felt like hours before we were taken down. But it was just the longest 10 minutes of my life.
Taking off my headset, I went to the monitor to watch the replay. There I was greeted with a recording of me crawling on the ground looking for ammunition in the final moments of our survival.
But I didn’t remember crawling (let alone getting on the ground). The longer the game went on, the more I had gotten lost in the virtual reality and forgotten that it was exactly that: a game.
After our disappointing defeat against zombies, we moved onto Gorn, a single-player fighting game where you are a gladiator forced to fight in an arena.
Gorn was by far the least realistic. First of all, the “crowd” is just floating heads. And the gladiators have the upper body of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but the legs of a chicken.
Second, the gameplay itself didn’t seem real. A warhammer twice the size of the fighters took dozens of swings before taking down the opposing gladiators, but a bow and arrow that looked dull enough to bounce off a piece of paper was a one-hit kill.
Nevertheless, it was definitely the most amusing game. There is something about fighting funny-looking gladiators with completely unrealistic weapons.
About five minutes into the game, I heard Benett shouting over the microphone.
“You can pick them up!” he yelled.
The gladiators, he meant. You can pick up the opposing gladiators.
There was no use for the provided weapons because they were nowhere near as effective as this newfound strategy.
So all five of us began swinging the chicken-legged gladiators until time ran out.
“That was so funny,” Benett said while taking his headset off.
“We have to come back,” Harkirat said.
I personally would go every day if I could. There is something about VR that makes it entirely different from traditional video games: you are no longer controlling a character in the game – you are the character.
But if games aren’t your thing, there is still a plethora of VR experiences for you.
Whether it is exploring the streets of New York through Google Earth or painting in your personal art studio in Tilt Brush, VR provides a real-life experience like no other.
—By Jake Longoria