I feel a little dizzy. It’s 11:52 a.m., and I’m in VR Chat talking to a stranger who tells me he’s “just hopping worlds.” A crude virtual campsite surrounds us — polygonal blue shrooms, some seven-feet tall, glowing in the synthetic dusk — and I lift my little plastic controllers to make my avatar shrug.
“It’s the first time I’ve done this,” I say. My real voice is recorded by the headset and transmitted through a giant, smiling stick of butter — the skin I’ve selected for myself in this virtual world. Given the opportunity to be an adonis, I chose a pile of fat that fell out of a cow.
“Eh, it’s okay: If you get a few people to talk, it’ll be entertaining,” the stranger responds. We can’t, though. A few people are hanging out, but it’s crickets at the campsite. The stranger sounds bored, I’m bored, and someone representing themselves as a disco ball with beefy gorilla arms is running back and forth and staring at us. It’s time for me to leave.
VR is the ultimate novelty, and those of us observing lockdowns are starved for that.
I peel my headset off and hop into a different kind of virtual reality: my 12 p.m. video meeting. My colleagues occupy flat panels in a Google Hangout, their speech crunched into audio data piped through mics and Bluetooth headphones. Inevitably, a couple of us glitch out. Video gets distorted, audio drops. The surrealism of this moment is matched only by its banality: I couldn’t count how many video calls I’ve been on since March.
Hiding out to make sure you don’t accidentally huff too much aerosolized blight is very boring. We’ve lived this life for many months, and we will live it for many more before a Covid-19 vaccine releases us.
It is into this particular moment that Facebook has launched its Oculus Quest 2, a standalone VR headset that promises to ferry us away from the mundane, starting at $299. There’s nothing especially new about this…