Oculus Quest 2 Is a Nice Escape for the Quarantine Blues
Thanksgiving would be family time. We were locked down for as many days as the schedules allowed and we wanted to get tested before traveling to a state to visit my parents. Nobody showed any symptoms, but we couldn’t bear the thought of carrying the virus into my parents’ house. My wife and children all tested negative. But I tested positive for Covid-19.
When we got home, I went straight to the bedroom. Apart from a few quick forays into the backyard, I haven’t gone since. Fortunately, I had just received an Oculus 2 device to check out. It was my only escape.
The first night I set the boundaries for play, a four-foot-wide strip between the bed and the wall, much smaller than I could get in our living room, but big enough to work. I had already tried the basics of the headset – the introductory lessons and exploration, plus a free multiplayer game called Echo VR, which is basically the ultimate zero-grav sci-fi frisbee match that got me a little nervous (even though it was me) I had fun scoring the only goal of the game in a game between three people and three AI players. I figured that JK Rowling should really take the time to pick out trans rights activists and help develop a VR Quidditch game soon.
I had also bought the first segment of the three-part Star Wars adventure Vader Immortal ($ 9.99) and faced the legendary Sith Lord. It’s a very cool – if very direct and brief – experience. The hand controls are good for making you feel like you’re actually fighting a lightsaber. And the VR really takes you to a galaxy far, far away. It’s haunting storytelling with simple gameplay instead of requiring strategy or skill, but I got excited about the first chapter and I’ll spend the other $ 19.98 to finish it off.
I also bought Beat Saber ($ 29.99), the rhythm game that requires you to cut blocks with a pair of lightsabers. It’s a simple premise that is surprisingly fun. And the fact that I’m in quarantine means no one will see me encounter invisible cubes while moving my body to the EDM soundtrack. It’s definitely the game I keep coming back to even though I haven’t yet downloaded SUPERHOT, one of my favorite VR games I’ve played before. It’s currently available for $ 17.49, so this will likely be my next purchase.
I was also able to link my Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts and watch TV on the headset instead of sitting at the desk I work at all day and staring at my monitor even more. The headset is comfortable enough not to disturb me while I lay down on my pillows and watched an episode of the community in a virtual living room with a wall-sized TV. It is an interesting experience to look around the room and in the mountains out the window or in the magazines on the coffee table at my feet while I lose myself in the antics of Abed, Annie, Jeff and Britta (I’m in the final season from a 2020 watch again, Troy and Shirley are missing). And for a more sociable viewing experience, I tried the free Bigscreen app, which allows you to play 2D and 3D films in theater rooms. I tuned in to Avengers Endgame briefly enough to playfully toss virtual popcorn at myself and get frustrated at the low resolution screen over my WiFi.
But what calmed my soul this week were the natural shorts. I’ve probably spent more time outdoors in 2020 than any other year since I got my driver’s license at 16 – early morning walks, bird watching, and exploring the abundance of nature in my hometown of Atlanta. The thought of being stuck in a room for at least 10 days wasn’t exciting. But on the first night of my diagnosis, I buckled onto the oculus and took a canoe down a mangrove-lined river in Southeast Asia. The second night I ran into great white sharks and jumped into a field in London. In a year when travel is largely out of reach, VR is the next best thing. With the surround sound and 360 degree visor, you can bring far away places into your home.
It was a virtual Thanksgiving Day. I was limited to hanging out with extended families and friends on a few Zoom and Google Hangout chats, and even having Thanksgiving dinner with my immediate family 20 yards in my room on FaceTime – and a world away. But at least I was allowed to visit baby elephants in the grasslands of Kenya and orangutan babies in the rainforests of Borneo via Ecosphere. The World Wildlife Federation app, in partnership with Silverback Films and Oculus, offers the best virtual tourism experiences I’ve ever tried. The 360-degree view is exchanged for a high-resolution 180-degree encounter with wild animals and an environmental message. It provided another much-needed break from the four walls I stared at as the actual wildlife in my back yard. And I even took a trip to the International Space Station via Mission: ISS, although it also made me feel a little shaky after swimming through the weightlessness of the station. Your experience with fluency in some games may vary.
I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities of VR since exploring the latest developments at Sundance in 2016. I knew what was coming, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger on a home appliance. But the smartphone units seemed limited and the tethered units seemed too expensive, especially those that needed a high-end gaming computer. But the standalone Oculus 2 seems like a game changer for $ 300. Months before a vaccine releases us back into public without fear of infection, this is a nice distraction from that year’s dumpster fire. If you can stand the fact that it’s a Facebook product that is likely to learn more about you with every action (the camera can see your surroundings and Beat Saber appreciated my size) it’s a pretty awesome new toy.