By Bailey MeCey
With the rise of virtual reality, one of the most common criticisms is the way it can block users from social interaction. In a way it does make sense, wearing a headset and noise-cancelling headphones can block you off from your surroundings and those around you.
However, from my time in virtual reality, I can say it is one of the most social experiences I have ever had. This is due, in part, to the video game ‘Rec Room,’ and how it may be the newest paradigm for how to treat social experiences in VR.
In ‘Rec Room,’ players can group up and play different games like paintball, dodgeball and even charades. The wrapping for the game is in a YMCA-like space, where you drop in and interact with others in goofy ways like throwing darts at their heads or talking about how great Carly Rae Jepson is.
What makes ‘Rec Room’ work as a safe social atmosphere and not a creepy sex chatroom is its inviting art direction. The game is bright and colorful, with different clothing combinations heightening the absurdity of the whole experience.
‘Rec Room’ also has good moderation tools that allow players to easily boot those that are creating an uncomfortable situation. However, I have never had an experience that required these tools, as everyone is very pleasant and tend to go with the goofiness of the game.
Allowing players to use the built-in voice chat in the headset makes for a unique experience hanging out with others from around the world. While games are a global phenomenon, it is tough to gauge that at times with the lack of sociability you get from most games. ‘Rec Room’ changes that by having different nationalities talking together, just letting people be people and have engaging conversations with each other.
No other game has ever given me such a sense of me being in the game as much as ‘Rec Room.’ I warped into a new space, shot some hoops with a guy and all of a sudden he looked at me and said, “Wow, you are really tall.” I laughed, not really knowing how to react as this wasn’t just him making an observation based on a persona created by me for the game but a real observation about me, as the game changes the height of your character based on your height.
This feeling of yourself being in the game is in part due to the hand controllers, which allow you to pick up and move objects just as you would with your hands. In the game, this means you can smack a dummy in the face or dance in a group of people. You can really get your personality out there in a way you cannot do with a simple controller.
The hand controllers are instrumental in bringing others together with the simple action of friending someone with a handshake or joining their party with a fist bump. Even at the core of the game design, ‘Rec Room’ promotes friendly and fun means of interaction.
When it came to social interaction in a video game, the most you would usually get is a 12-year-old screaming at you for constantly dying in Call of Duty. Thanks in part to games like ‘Rec Room’ that take full advantage of virtual reality, players can interact and socialize like they would in everyday life with a slight twist. This interaction does not lead to hate, bigotry or violence; it’s a group of people that want to get together to have fun. What else could you ask for?