“This is awesome!”
“Oooh, I like the ocean!”
“Can I have a second turn?”
Would you want to do this forever? “Yeah!”
That’s how my three kids, ages 8, 7 and 5, reacted to their first experience with the Oculus Rift. When one of CNET’s virtual-reality experts needed a couch for the night, he brought the new headset for my family to try. Now I’m wondering if my kids will be the first generation of VR natives.
Seeing their amazement and delight and listening to their giggles, I knew something special had happened.
Nothing I’ve experienced in my three and a half decades using computers and playing video games has been as breathtaking as VR. When I got my turn, it was nothing like my first time guiding Pitfall Harry across the crocodiles (hated them!), or helping Link rescue Zelda. It felt far more transformative. But watching my kids experience it was even better.
“I want to try to reach that leaf.” (My son takes a step forward.)
“I’m going to fall into the water!”
“I’m off the kayak.”
What’s it like to play a game like this? “Cool.”
How cool? “Cool cool.”
My 7-year-old son stood in front of the couch in the living room, but inside the headset, he was experiencing a lazy ride on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He seemed most interested in the virtual kayak itself: moving around in it, trying to “touch” the controls.
He tried jumping to grab a branch. (Nope.) He tried to see if he could “get out” of the kayak by walking a few feet to either side. (Nope. Well, sorta.) He sat down on the floor, as if there were an actual kayak in our living room.
I noticed how rapidly all of my kids took their immersive worlds for granted. They “got it” intuitively, focusing on the environments themselves. VR actually seemed to come more naturally to them than the video game controls. (My eldest, already the family tech expert, was happy to tell his siblings which buttons to press.)
Of course, as a child everything is new and possible. Virtual reality can be reality, at least as long as the headset is on.
“A person. I’m touching it!” giggles
“I wanna go to the top of the mountain!”
My 5-year-old daughter became so enthralled with “The Rose and I,” a VR excerpt of The Little Prince, that she walked into a wall. Not once, but three times — giggling uncontrollably throughout. She wanted to see things up close and from every angle. I don’t think it crossed her mind that this wasn’t something she, or anyone, had really ever done before.
My older son is already asking if he can incorporate VR into his upcoming birthday party. He asked if we could sell our PS4 to get an Oculus, though he backed down when I told him a similar product would be available for PlayStation soon. (And neither of my boys would give up iPad time for VR, they told me.)