Combat the Lockdown Blues with Virtual Reality

We’re on a lockdown in the UK. All the pubs and restaurants are closed. You barely remember what your friends’ faces look like. You’ve been told to distance yourself from everyone except the people in your household (if you’re (un)lucky enough to live with others). You’ve been told to stay indoors unless you’re going out for your single daily exercise. And now you’re miserable. Maybe that’s just how it has to be during a lockdown? Maybe the only option is to stay at home and not talk to anyone. Fortunately we live in an incredible technological age; a time when virtual reality is delivering on its promise of being truly immersive.

Socialise with your friends

Remember when playing video games meant sitting in front of the TV all day and not interacting with anyone? Well, maybe don’t because you’re not in your 30s like me. For a long time, that’s what playing games meant. Then the internet came along and we could play online with each other with varying degrees of success depending on your internet speed. Now VR has brought us a whole new dimension of online gaming. Think of it more like an online space where you get to hang out with your buddies, just like you would at a pub. Drinking can get pretty tricky with your headset on though so watch out you don’t spill anything.

Socialising in VR is something special. It’s amazing how much body language can be conveyed just by tracking your head and hands. See your friend wave at you from across the room or throw their head back with roaring laughter at the joke you just told. Watch them slowly shake their head as you accidentally walk off a ledge into that pit of spikes for the 3rd time that evening. VR is so immersive that your brain really is tricked into thinking you’re socialising “for real”. The way I see it, you are. So here are my favourite VR games for combating loneliness:

The Forest VR

The Forest VR – This is realistic Minecraft mixed with The Walking Dead vibes. I don’t want to say too much about it and spoil the game but it’s heart-poundingly brilliant. Build up your base and wave at each other from your treehouses. Play with up to 7 of your friends and experience the beauty of the island while trying to survive the night. Available on Steam.

Socialising in VR
The gang all together in the forest

Pavlov VR

Pavlov VR – Did you ever play Counter Strike? This is the VR version. Run around a map shooting enemies with your friends using realistic weapons. Every gun has it’s own reloading mechanism which you have to learn. Available on Steam.

Playing an FPS in VR
Freeze!

Battlewake

Battlewake – Live the life of a pirate. Captain your very own ship and adventure with a friend through the high seas, shooting other boats out the water. Warning: you may get sea sick. Available on Oculus and Steam.

Being the captain of a pirate ship
Avast ye

Stream your experience to a live audience

Wanting that social connection but none of your friends are available to join you in VR? Why don’t you try streaming your VR experience online? There are a number of platforms now that make it relatively easy to stream your game and have others comment on it. The main platforms to stream to are Twitch, YouTube and Facebook. It can get a little tricky learning how to stream and I’ve only just started myself but a key piece of software that you’ll want to use is OBS. This software lets you capture your screen and webcam at the same time and then stream it all at once to the platform of your choice. You can check out the OBS wiki on how to get started. You can even have a chat window open in VR so you can glance to one side and see it like in the image below.

Streaming in VR
Pinned Twitch chat window

Discover your creative outlet

Looking for a new creative hobby in all this downtime you have? VR could be the perfect tool to release your inner artist while staying indoors. There are games and apps out there that are made specifically for creativity. Enter Tilt Brush. Tilt Brush lets you create art in a 3D space rather than a 2D drawing. While this might sound like a small change, you can get lost inside your artwork for hours. There are around 50 different brush tools included in the app. Some of them shine, some glitter and some etch in and out of view like an old cartoon drawing. You can experience your artwork like never before by walking around it and scaling it to different sizes. Let your imagination run wild and create anything you can think of. Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, you can share it for others to view. The best way of sharing is to upload it to Google’s own Polly website where others can download it to their computers and experience your art in VR too. To share with those who don’t have VR yet, you can record a video of your work using your hand as the camera. You can also take gifs and snapshots from inside the app to share to social media. Make sure to check out the talented featured artists on the Tilt Brush website. Here’s a cherry blossom tree I made in Tilt Brush.

Nature sounds added in Spotify

Visit places you’d love to go after the lockdown

We all want to get away and we can feel trapped in our houses when we’re on lockdown for so long. Google Earth VR is the perfect antidote to that. Google Earth VR lets you explore the world from the comfort of your office chair. With their impressive mapping of the globe, most major cities are now in 3D this app. Visit New York and look straight down 5th Avenue with the buildings rising up either side of you. If you’ve had enough of flying over the globe, you can pick a spot to land and enter street view. All of a sudden you’re surrounded by the environment from all angles. There are prebuilt tours that you can go on where you can visit famous landmarks and historic sites. Finding and visiting that location you went on vacation to when you were 12 is definitely a strange experience that hits you with nostalgia. I’ve even taken to hosting online meetings while in Google Earth VR so the other participants have something interesting to look at other than my face on webcam.

Meeting in VR
Work meeting over the Golden Gate Bridge

Keep fit and active indoors

This is something I didn’t think I’d be doing during the lockdown. I’m not great at exercising at the best of times. Gyms bore me, classes can be expensive and buying home equipment can take up a lot of space. So I found myself asking if there was a way VR could solve my laziness, lack of space and lack of money. The answer was yes! I’ve recently been playing a title called BoxVR. This is available on both Steam and Oculus. BoxVR is a fitness game at heart. Gameplay wise it’s along the same lines of something like Guitar Hero or Beat Saber (also great for a workout) but with a focus on exercise. Fitness instructors have created the boxing workout classes to be specifically designed to “destroy calories in the most entertaining way ever devised!” This means a lot of punches and a lot of squats. You can track your progress as you complete classes. The game estimates how many calories you’ve burned per session. They’re normally a fair bit lower than my Fitbit says I’ve burned. A 40 minute session for me burns around 500 calories. Your whole body will be aching by the end of it as you’re made to throw combinations of jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts and are forced to squat and dodge out of the way of obstacles coming toward you. Not too bad for a home workout. If you’re like me and need fitness to be gamified for you to do it, BoxVR is a great addition to your virtual reality game library.

Boxing in VR
Uppercut, left hook, cross, left hook

The lockdown doesn’t have to get you down. If you already have a VR headset, try some of these experiences and let me know how you get on. If you don’t own a headset yet, there are a lot out there.

  • The Oculus Quest is a great starting point for most. No need for a PC or wires as everything runs on the headset itself. You also have the option to purchase a link cable so you could potentially run VR games from your PC to the headset.
  • The Oculus Rift S is the one to go for if you already have a gaming PC that can handle it.
  • Playstation VR is obviously the right choice if you own a PS4 Pro and want to experience the world of VR.
  • And finally, if you want the best experience and you have a lot of money to throw at it, the Valve Index is an exceptional piece of kit. The controllers strap to your hands so you don’t need to keep a grip on them all the time.

Head over to the contact page and let me know what games you’re playing and how VR is helping you during this lockdown.

Stay safe!