To get a ‘virtual’ experience before recent technology, the closest thing was giant setups in enclosed booths set on motors. Most arcades couldn’t afford such extravagant machines, so they were few and far between. Current virtual reality (VR) technology is smaller and cheaper, so the number of ways to play VR games from home has expanded into the console marketplace.
Despite incessant pestering from VR enthusiasts and teasing from Microsoft that the latest Xbox models would feature the technology, VR is unavailable for the Xbox Series X.
What devices can I use to play VR games?
Most gamers will be turning to one of two options for VR gaming: the Meta Quest 2 (formerly known as Oculus Quest 2) or the PSVR for Playstation 4. They fall into the price range of a gaming console, although the PSVR is more akin to an accessory.
The next generation of VR hardware from these two vendors should both be out by next year, according to rumors. Those unofficial sources are expecting the PSVR 2 later in 2022 and a release announcement for the Meta Quest 3 at the Facebook Connect conference. Neither has an official release date yet, so there’s no need to hold back if you’re looking to get the best value out of your purchase.
It’s hard to recommend other VR headsets over the Meta Quest 2. The PSVR is one of its strongest competitors, and it sorely underperforms against even the minimally more expensive 128 GB version of the Meta Quest 2. That price difference lands solidly in the Quest’s favor if you don’t already own a PS4, although there are workarounds that allow you to use a PSVR on a PC with reduced functionality.
The pricing of other models is outright exorbitant, with many pushing past four figures. The Valve Index costs about that much and still needs a decent gaming PC to run VR games. The combination of a PC’s dedicated GPU and the higher-end hardware in the VR headset can produce better graphics than the standalone Meta Quest 2, if you are looking for the best performance without regard for cost.
What VR games are available?
Although the total number of VR-capable games is still small relative to the total number of games, the list is growing as the technology advances and gains adoption. The widest number of options are available for the PC, as is the case for most games, but the PS4 still has several hundred games and apps that use VR. Instead of listing out all the options, here are a few choice selections to consider trying first.
Beat Saber offers a great starting point for the VR gaming experience. You’ll swat down colored boxes in a neon cyberscape to a variety of songs. If you’ve played a rhythm game like Dance Dance Revolution or Friday Night Funkin’, the concept is similar with more arm movements. It’s available for Meta Quest 2, PSVR, and on PC.
To really get a feel for how VR can transport you to a different world, try out No Man’s Sky. Travel through the stars to find new life on procedurally generated planets. There is combat, but the game is just as much about adventure and taking in the sights. The base game doesn’t need VR to work, so you can play the game with friends and family who don’t own a headset yet.
For more lightning-paced space action, there are two similar yet unique options. The first is Star Wars: Squadrons, a game that puts you at the helm of a starfighter in George Lucas’s iconic sci-fi universe. The other is Elite Dangerous, a more unique and in-depth game where you take on missions across an expansive galaxy. Both make for gorgeous sci-fi battle scenes where you’ll be bracing yourself for the imaginary G-forces. Like No Man’s Sky, neither require that you have VR to play them, but they are greatly enhanced by it.
Instead of something hectic and wild, try out Painting VR. The virtual studio gives you everything you need to create works of art in the space around you, and you don’t have to worry about neon boxes or laser blasts flying towards you. It’s easy to lose yourself in the creative process, so be sure to take frequent breaks while working on your masterpiece.
Can you play multiplayer games using VR?
A variety of games on VR systems are multiplayer capable, and some of them strongly emphasize that gameplay element. Elite Dangerous can’t be played single-player at all, as an example. Both Star Wars: Squadrons and No Man’s Sky have multiplayer versions, but you can play them offline if you want.
VRChat connects users to a chat room that lets them shape both themselves and their surroundings. It’s less of a game than it is an experiment in how VR and social interactions can be combined, but it does have some tools for games like Zombie Tag. Even if you don’t play the games or build worlds, just spending hours communicating with people can quickly cause hours to disappear.
For another unique VR experience, try the Tabletop Simulator. It lets you control the environment of a virtual tabletop, letting you play everything from Poker to Pathfinder through your headset. With a few headsets, you can replicate Family Game Night, no matter how far away life has taken you. It can take some time to setup more complex games, but there are a number of ready-made tables for you to get started right away.
Are there any health or safety concerns when playing VR games on XBox Series X?
There are a couple of issues that you should be ready to address before using a VR headset. Both the safety and health concerns are easily managed with proper awareness and precautions.
Physical safety and VR games
The most important safety concern for playing VR games is ample room for movement and controller lanyards. Unlike most video games, VR games involve a considerable amount of motion from the players. Those players are also unable to see past the VR screen, and their headphones may limit their ability to hear things around them. That all adds up to a high likelihood of accidental collisions.
Don’t discount the importance of the controller lanyards, either. They can be slightly uncomfortable to wear, but the first time a controller slips out of your hands at high speed, you’ll be thankful that the lanyard stops it from propelling through the nearest delicate object.
Videos of unintentional disasters resulting from VR games are frequently popular tidbits of enjoyment at other people’s misfortunes, but many of them do point to potential hazards. Notably, children should be kept out of the way and have constant monitoring, since they ultimately can’t process the danger of running in front of someone while they’re effectively blind and flailing.
The health impact of VR games
After you get done playing VR games, you may notice eye strain, dizziness, disorientation, and nausea. Playing for a longer time can exacerbate the effect, but it will usually fade within a short time. These symptoms are usually grouped together into a term called cybersickness, owing to the tech-based causes that link them together. The best way to manage cybersickness from VR is minimizing the total amount of time player to less than thirty minutes in a single session.
In rare cases, people have shown extreme and negative sensitivity to VR inputs. The cybersickness symptoms will have a much faster onset, and the player may also experience symptoms like anxiety and sweating. Turn off the headset immediately if you or the player begins to feel unwell.
In 2020, Facebook reported that its Oculus VR system caused permanent eye damage in roughly 0.03% of users. An overview of available research showed that there are concerns about children’s health when they are frequently allowed to engage with VR. Notably, extensive time with VR may interfere with the development of neural pathways that play a role in processing visual data and managing hand-eye coordination.
At the same time, researchers are increasingly looking into the value of VR as a medical tool for therapy and other purposes. The lack of conclusive data means that it’s best to limit the use time of VR devices, especially for younger children, but outright avoiding VR is only necessary for those who experience a sudden onset of cybersickness.