Virtual Reality is what you make of it

My sister is not a gamer. Sure, she loves playing games – whether it’s the Harry Potter version of Cluedo that we played as a kid or playing a card game with her students now that she’s a teacher – but she wouldn’t identify as a gamer. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The reason I tell you this is that she came to stay with me over Christmas last year, shortly after I bought a new PlayStation VR. Even though she’s not a gamer, we sat down together and we just played videogames together for the first time in a long time, and it was just the most pleasant and cathartic thing.

Virtual reality is phenomenal. The VR headset had my mild-mannered mother dropping C-bombs within the first 30-or-so seconds of Tetris Effect which, I assure you, was the funniest damn thing I saw in all of 2018. And they were curses of wonder as she struggled to get to grips with, what was, Eurogamer’s Game of the Year for 2018.

What was interesting was passing the VR headset around my family while they were staying over. Tetris is a weirdly competitive sport in my family. My mom clearly cares about it, if her tirade of profanity is anything to go by, and my brother claims to have finished the game once as a kid on the old Gameboy. I still call him a liar to this day because we all know it’s simply not possible before the game Zerg rushes you. Trying to finish Tetris on the Gameboy is an exercise in futility. But then again, the pair of us used to follow our stepbrother around the house playing the Tetris theme tune on the guitar because we thought it was funny to annoy him, so I guess I let the whole “I finished Tetris” thing slide.

Passing the VR headset to my little sister – the one who would roll her eyes and complain when I would take an entire weekend to storm my way through a game – was an educational experience. We played a few levels while polishing off a bottle of wine and a copious amount of Christmas spirits, passing the headset back and forth and just chatting about life. It was a touching moment sharing something I love with my sister, and something we haven’t done since the old Prince of Persia game was re-released on the PS3 (though due to a disparity in skill level, that was mostly me doing the hard bits).

Tetris, however, can be played at your skill level, and made harder or easier depending on how you’re feeling then and there thanks to the plethora of game modes. Add the VR into that and you have a game that’s instantly accessible and utterly mind-blowing, no matter your skill or interest level. That’s a fantastic equaliser, and even though my sister isn’t a gamer and I write about the things at every turn, we were both in our element, staying up late smashing lines (of Tetris, obviously) and talking into the early morning.

Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and I stumbled off to bed to get some sleep. Fast-forward eight hours (it was a good sleep) and I stroll back into the living room. My sister, who clearly requires less sleep than me, is sitting there on the PlayStation, playing Tetris. Someone who has never turned a PlayStation 4 on, and has absolutely zero interest in the console, has got up early, figured out how to boot Tetris VR and just launched back in.

Clearly, she heard me come into the room because she greeted me as I stood there, an equal mix of proud and amused.

“Sorry, I hope you don’t mind but I wanted to play some more of this before I went home”
“No, not at all – you carry on. You want a coffee?”
“Yeah, please…
“Cool, I’ll go make some.”
“…you know, the whole world should be in VR”

The fact that the whole world is already in actual reality did come to mind as I went to make the coffee, but more importantly, if all the PlayStation VR ever does for me is share that moment with my sister, it was the best £200 I’ve ever spent.

Should all digital media be in VR? Probably not – Eastenders VR sounds like a hideous idea – but I certainly take my sister’s point. Reality is what you make of it, and when something as simple as Tetris is that alluring in VR, I can see why you’d be clamouring for the next big thing.

But I didn’t dwell on that. I brought my sister who isn’t a gamer a cup of coffee, she gave me the VR headset and we picked up the conversation from the night before.

And yes, we still agree that the Tetris theme tune is the best damn thing.