Big Picture Mode
Nathan Brown knows VR is great, but he can’t be bothered right now
Since becoming a father, I’ve not really had a hangover. I mean, I’ve had plenty – the pounding head, the churning stomach, the waves of nauseous regret – but not like I used to, where you just spend a Sunday curled up in the foetal position on the sofa watching five straight hours of the worst channel on the television because the remote is two feet away and you simply can’t summon up the will to move. These days a hangover means desperately urging a toddler to finally discover his indoor voice, sadly tidying up Mega Bloks, and trying not to puke when 15 kilos of seemingly infinite energy knee-drops your diaphragm.
Yet I’ve been thinking a lot about those old hangovers lately, and specifically that apparent physical inability to reach for the remote; to find oneself unable to move for five seconds even when you know that doing so will greatly improve the next five hours. Every evening, as the offspring finally slips into his nightly devil-coma, I survey my bulging pile of shame. I think about playing something in virtual reality; all those apparently excellent games I have on Rift, Vive and PSVR, and have yet to touch. This virtual realm of seemingly infinite possibility offers me experiences I have never had in my 30-plus years of playing videogames. How can you say no to that?
But I will, because it involves plugging things in, finding my headphones, mucking about with cables and straps and headsets that apparently want to eat my glasses (when they said I’d need powerful specs for VR, I assumed they were talking about my graphics card). If I want to play a Vive game it means clearing the study of furniture, setting the whole thing up from scratch and boxing it all back up when I’m done, because I can’t leave that mess in place with a two-year-old running around. Rift always seems to need an update, and is the most desperate to gobble my spectacles. PSVR involves the least friction but is still a pain in the arse, and inevitably means I am going to get all OCD- upset about the apparent impossibility of my ever sorting its morass of cables in a remotely elegant way. Seriously, that thing has ruined my living room.
So, faced with this dynamic new medium and its infinite spectrum of etc and so on, I just can’t really be bothered with it. And like a 25-year-old with a crippling hangover resigning himself to a Hollyoaks omnibus even though he hasn’t watched it in years, I flop back on the sofa, fire up the PS4, and play whatever was last running before I put the console in Rest mode. I try to intellectualise it, to say it is social and relaxing and brilliant, but this is probably the real reason I play so much Destiny: it is quick and easy, and I am slow and lazy.
I wonder if I’d have felt like this ten years ago, at least when I wasn’t sobbing beneath a duvet watching three hours of Escape To The Country. But VR’s somewhat messy implementation feels especially inappropriate at a time when the game industry has worked so hard to minimise the friction between us having the intent to play, and actually playing something. An iPhone game starts up as quickly as I can show it my thumbprint (because a swipe and a four-digit PIN takes too long!) and tap an app icon; PS4 and Xbox One keep games running in standby because stuff the environment and forget the electricity bill – I have 20 minutes to spare before the kid wakes up and fancy a quick bit of Crucible. We build our PCs with SSDs to maximise startup speeds and minimise game load times. When everything else in games is built around convenience – when our phones, consoles and PCs have convinced us we are short on time – is it any wonder that VR feels like too much of a faff?
This is the price we pay for progress, I suppose. VR is a big step forward in one direction that involves a couple of little steps back elsewhere, and that’s fine. We should have to work a little harder for the biggest thrills available. We used to sit there looking at static loading screens for ten minutes in order to see the best the Commodore 64 had to offer; we’d travel all the way to the seaside to see Final Fight’s gigantic sprites. In that context, how can I possibly feel that five minutes getting set up for VR is too much like hard work? Our devices may have taught us to be lazy, but only a fool – or someone with a really bad hangover – would sit through Bargain Hunt when Breaking Bad is on the other side. So now that the horrors of 2016 are put to bed, I know what my New Year’s Resolution is. Make the bloody effort.
This is probably the real reason I play so much Destiny: it is quick and easy, and I am slow and lazy