Fans of the Oculus Rift tout it as more than the Next Big Thing. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, they say — a life-changing experience. Can goggles and headphones really alter your existence?
It depends on your life, I guess.
Me? I’m a middle-aged, overweight Jewish writer with bad joints and presbyopia. I drive a used Subaru. My only fight training has been at tai chi speed.
Then Ted Schilowitz — a.k.a. Ted from Red, from his days with the Red Camera Co. — puts me in the Rift for the first time. Among other things, Ted works for Fox under the title “futurist and consigliere.” He’s also helping to develop content for the Oculus Rift.
“I’m not a gamer,” I warn Ted as his minions gird me for “Zombies on the Holodeck.” But he thinks I’ll do fine.
(Illustration by Ward Sutton for Variety)
He and his assistants start me up and I am at a firing range. On the table before me is a shotgun. OK, sure. It takes two hands to pump. They tell me I have an axe strapped to my back and grenades hooked onto my shirt.
While I may not be a gamer, I have tried games, and already this is a quantum leap forward from a normal vidgame experience. First, this world is all around me, not just in a window in front of me. Second, it’s physical. I have to use both arms to pump the shotgun, turn my body to fire on a new target — or to see what’s behind me.
I turn right. Submachine gun. Excellent. I grab it and I’m shredding targets. I’m really in this world.
“Ammunition. How much do I get?”
Then it’s midnight. Sirens and the hiss of rain. Lightning. Where am I? A makeshift fort in a city square after a war. No, during a war. It’s the zombie apocalypse, I’m the last man standing. And they are coming.
Level 1 isn’t hard. They come from everywhere, those zombie bastards, but they’re slow. Even so, they can sneak up on me.
Level 2: I’m focused, weapons ready, and I’m moving faster now, spraying bullets as undead skulls explode.
And then the gun stops firing. The barrel glows red. OVERHEATED!! And they’re all around me.
I drop the tommy gun, reach back to grab the axe and start swinging. Gore. Limbs. A growl: That undead thing at my feet is still moving, dammit. My heart is pounding and I’m starting to sweat. I swing until nothing moves.
That virtual axe isn’t heavy, but I’m really moving my arms and body to swing it. The screen I’m viewing is a little fuzzy on this very early version of the Rift, but I have to keep an eye on what’s above, below and behind me. The outside world is long gone. I’m not playing a game. I’m actually fighting zombies. Even the so-so screen adds to the terror, like I’m trying to fight zombies with something in my eyes.
It feels like blood.
Level 3: The zombies are faster. The tommy-gun is working again. Controlled bursts. But there are … too … many … zombies. Chaos. Madness. Teeth. This isn’t just exciting, it’s terrifying — in exactly the way you’d want it to be.
Then blackness. My time in the Rift is done.
I catch my breath and my pulse slows as the techs remove the goggles and take the controllers from my hands. It’s strange to return from combat so abruptly.
“Was that life-changing?” Ted asks.
I just look at him. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I think silently. “I’m the same cold-blooded zombie killer I was before.”