October 28, 2020
First Person is a new monthly column by Whatzup writer Steve Penhollow who will try out some of the more unusual pasttimes in the region.
As I type this, Chicago has banned Indiana residents from taking short trips there. Things sure aren’t looking rosy for the end of staycations.
So I got to wondering whether the local virtual reality arcades known as Spectrum are good places for pretending that I am not where I am.
I am not referring here to games in which you shoot zombies or cowboys or your-mouth-off. Those can be transportive in their own way, but what I was looking for was calmer games for old farts like myself who deplore violence unless it is directed at household appliances that have been constructed according to the principle known as “planned obsolescence.”
For the uninitiated, virtual reality gaming involves headsets that immerse wearers in virtual worlds.
Waylon Fisher, founder and CEO of Spectrum Virtual Reality Arcades, helped me find the peaceable games I sought.
The first game I played at the Covington Plaza store is called Richie’s Plank Experience.
Richie’s Plank Experience is often described by virtual reality entrepreneurs as a “gateway drug,” which is not the sort of thing you want your mom overhearing when she is dropping you off at the arcade.
What these entrepreneurs mean by this is that it’s a good introduction to the singular (and non-narcotic) pleasures of virtual reality.
In one part of the game, the player finds him- or herself having to walk a wooden plank which has been nailed to the side of a skyscraper for some reason, perhaps a remnant of a particularly hostile takeover.
If you have a fear of heights, the game will trigger that fear. If you have a fear of wood, it will trigger that fear, too. And if you have a fear of heights and wood… well, perhaps you should sit this one out, preferably in a non-wooden chair.
There are gentler chapters in Richie’s Plank Experience, including one that allows you to soar above a city just like Marvel’s Iron Man would if his jet pack were powered by paint.
Paint being one of the jet pack industry’s more inefficient fuels, you end up soaring very slowly while painting a city like the vengeful ghost of Christo.
It is delightful and relaxing.
Another game that allows you to float above a city doing magical things is Santa Simulator.
In Santa Simulator, you assay the role of the Jolly Old Elf. In that capacity, you guide the reindeer (including Rudolph) and you deliver presents while heart-tugging music plays.
Your enjoyment of Santa Simulator is probably dependent on the robustness of your Christmas-induced sentimentality.
As for me, I didn’t get misty the first time I played it and no one can prove that I did. After all, it’s dark in those VR chambers. Then too, I was wearing goggles, so anyone who says they saw me cry is a dirty liar.
Even if it’s my son.
Under the Virtual Sea
If you want to float many miles below sea level, The Blu and Free Diver: Triton Down have you covered … with virtual water.
The Blu is sort of like a giant ocean-sized aquarium that the player inhabits. When a humpback whale swims very close to you, you might be tempted to lose control of your bladder, but try to remember that you aren’t really underwater and you aren’t really wearing a wet suit.
In Free Diver: Triton Down, you play a person who dives to great depths without an oxygen tank and goes on adventures, the main one being finding oxygen at great depths.
If you want to float many miles above the planet, try First Time: Zero Gravity. It’s a short game, but the view of the earth from space will take your breath away — and you won’t be required to search for oxygen afterward.
Job Simulator, in which the player pursues mundane-but-honorable occupations in a future ruled by awkward-but-benevolent robots, may be too cartoony to be transportive. Then again, a future ruled by awkward-but-benevolent robots might be the setting of your most fervid fantasies right now.
Around the world
Perhaps the best game for transporting you to another place is Google Earth VR. If you have fooled around with Google Earth on your laptop or desktop, you know it allows you to peruse panoramic photos of street views and landscapes in cities around the world.
Google Earth VR fully immerses you in those photos and it also sends you soaring above computer-generated cities and pastoral utopias.
Then too, you could always visit Fort Wayne in Google Earth VR, as I did.
This may seem counterintuitive on the surface. If I want to feel like I am taking a break from locked-down Fort Wayne, why would I visit a virtual version of Fort Wayne in a virtual reality arcade located in Fort Wayne?
My reasoning was that all the photos had to have been taken before the pandemic. What is visiting a pandemic-free Fort Wayne if not a vacation from pandemic-affected Fort Wayne?
Your reasoning may differ. Whatever your reasons, you really need to give Spectrum VR a try.
Given the layout of its VR rooms and the sanitation regimen practiced by its employees, Spectrum VR offers one of the safest pastimes a person might enjoy right now.
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