I almost didn’t get to try Playstation VR. After a morning talk at GDC which extolled the new system’s virtues (exciting, but somewhat flat when you’re not wearing the headset), I signed up to try it out at 3:30, only to have my reservation mysteriously vanish an hour before I was due to test it. The rest of the day’s slots, eagerly pounced upon by other conference attendees who wandered the hall whispering its name, were already taken up and I was near tears by the time Sony’s press team took some pity on me and allowed me to experience the VR for myself in a private booth reserved for VIPs (and not 30-somethings having panic attacks on a convention floor).
I’ve tried VR in other forms several times. When i was a kid, I put on one of those giant helmets at the arcade and wandered around a crudely drawn castle while an evil bird ate me alive. As an adult, I tried virtual reality goggles at The Adult Entertainment Expo two years in a row (it got considerably more real the second time). I was impressed, but not enough that I’d shell out more than $400 for a machine that would allow me to play video games in a hyper-realistic setting. And while the VR presentation put me at the edge of my seat–especially when I watched two people don headsets and then slap each other silly on a virtual playground–I wasn’t expecting the Playstation VR to turn me into a drooling fanboy within five minutes. But let me tell you one thing: The PS VR is amazing and once it comes out, none of us will ever leave the house again.
Once I entered the private room, I was helped by a woman named Vicky, who told me she’d ease me into the experience and promised to take lots of pictures of me looking silly as I tried to maneuver my way through the virtual world she was going to put me through. She showed me how to adjust the headset (it pulls in and out in the front and the back) and then helped me put it on. The first thing I noticed was how comfortable it was. While past VR headsets have been criticized for feeling heavy or unwieldy — almost as if one was taking on the role of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man In the Iron Mask — Sony’s headset was light and didn’t put any pressure on my face. Of course, it wasn’t something I would suggest wearing any longer than an hour at a time (and even then, you’d probably need to ease into it), but it didn’t make me feel like my head had been shackled and that I needed to shake it around screaming “I am not an animal” like John Hurt in The Elephant Man. In fact, the only thing I asked Vicky as she strapped me in and put on my headphones was “Am I going to die?”
In response, Vicky just handed me my Move controllers and told me that the trigger would allow me to grab things. “There’ll be things all over the car, she said. “Just try touching it all.” Oh sh*t, I thought. I don’t even know how to drive a car. Not even in video games. The last time I played Grand Theft Auto V, I had a panic attack as I accidentally drove my car into pedestrian after pedestrian while screaming “sorry” and trying to avoid them. But with the controllers in my hand and the headphones now snugly on my ears, it was too late to protest.