The Oculus Rift Is The Surprising Antidote To Technology Overload
There is something about this idea that makes no sense. Technology surrounds us, distracts us, worms its way into our brains and attacks us from all directions. The internet, source of all, offers us with just as steady a stream of ways to avoid it, from “productivity” apps, calming beverages, countless listicles and Life Pro Tips designed to get us to unplug. It never really works — the phone is always close by, the opportunity to grab a new piece of gear in Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes ever present. I realize that there’s something ironic about escaping from technology by strapping a VR headset connected to an overcharged gaming computer to my face. But damn if the Oculus Rift doesn’t work.
I’ve had my Oculus Rift for a few weeks now, cautiously dipping into the launch library, demoing some games, showings some friends, and generally eyeing the thing with distrust as it sits on top of my computer. Last week I fell in. The game that did it was Defense Grid 2, a tower defense title that in no ways requires VR to work, but becomes utterly captivating through its use. You find yourself looking down from on high, building towers and shooting aliens in what feels like the most incredible board game you could imagine, full of moving parts, living pieces and endless strategy. From there I went to Hitman Go VR, a game I thoroughly enjoyed when I played it on my phone but, again, doesn’t necessarily need VR. And yet when you put the headset on, you find yourself sucked in in a way that the old, flat games just can’t do.
And something happens when you lose yourself in these worlds — you actually lose yourself. Sure, a good TV show or normal video game can hope to mirror that effect, but it’s different when it’s all around you. In Hitman Go, the ambient noises of some party or airport fill your ears, in Defense Grid 2 the horizon stretches out in every direction. And all of a sudden I’m not checking my phone. I’m not wondering about email, I’m not thinking about emails to send, I’m just here, in this world, relaxing for this first time in a while.
It doesn’t really work with the more complex games. Elite: Dangerous is pretty, but I tend to fin myself spinning aimlessly, lifting the headset to look up the obtuse controls and finding myself staring at the back of a pilot’s chair because the game maps the recenter button to the keyboard rather than the gamepad, and I can’t always find F12 when I’m trying to dock, thank you. A jetpack game I tried just made me sick.
But these little, meditative strategy games, and the rest of the simpler fare on the Oculus Rift? It’s an oasis from technology, composed of technology. I get the feeling that the company understands this: it’s why the menu screen has such a calming effect. Rarely has a game sucked me in in the way the Oculus has been doing recently, and I’m more excited than ever to see where it goes from here.