Something I learned while playing Raw Data, a VR co-op tower defense shooter game from Survios, is that VR probably has a long way to go before it hits a certain saturation point that “normie” video games have. That point is when players can just hit the ground running. You witness it when starting a multiplayer game in most shooters—voice chat, when not used to harass other players, being utilized to set up some kind of battle plan and people running directly to vantage points or resource pickups. This sense of knowing what to do as soon as you see it will take a while to reach for VR, and I’m curious to see how Raw Data may contribute to that learning curve.
Although there is information to know, I was given little of it before my crown, the HTC Vive, was placed upon my head. Rather, I was given a rundown of how to use the peculiar control wands: what triggers do what and where on my actual corpulent body I could find weapons. Raw Data is about touching yourself, looking like you’re performing The Macarena while wearing a headset to bystanders. The controls that actually pick up your weapons from their holsters/sheaths never felt very comfortable, so I probably could’ve benefited from a minute looking at the controllers before the headset went on, not after. (Side note: This is strangely common in VR demos, controllers being handed to you after you can no longer see.)
Before long, I was inside the game… and another person. No, this wasn’t an issue of consent, it’s just that my virtual body, lean as it was, overlapped with my partner, who was safely in the cubicle next to mine. Yet we were to occupy the same digital space as if standing side by side. I have to admit that’s kind of hilarious. My handlers encouraged me to, you know, step back so that we could cease emulating VR conjoined twins. That’s not tactical, I take it.
We were in the center of a very shiny, glossy, futuristic room. The future, for all intents and purposes, is still Tron, dark with glowing edges and well-maintained by the maid service. On either side of us was a computer terminal, which we’d later use to initiate the ordeal and acquire a new weapon. After performing the peculiar motions to effectively Press Start, the room started unleashing robots on us. Once I could figure out how to hold onto my pistol without breaking my finger to do so, the experience was fairly solid.
What’s interesting is that it benefits you to try looking down the sights when you shoot instead of how current games generally display guns off to the side when shooting from the hip. I’m sure there’s a way to make that work, but Raw Data’s 1:1 tracking of your arms allows players to build their own shooting gameplay language. Maybe it’s a dystopian training simulator, but I was happy about the flexibility. The sword—I never used the sword even though it apparently can deflect bullets à la lightsabers in Star Wars. When I’m overwhelmed, my best defense tends to be a mix of offense and nonsense.
Once the androids I was looking for became a bit more acrobatic, diving behind cover, and armed, the men around me reminded me to take cover behind the console in the center. That makes perfect sense. I’m just hugely unfamiliar with A) using my actual body to protect myself in a video game and B) not sitting down within that context. It turns out I’m not great at seeking cover myself and would likely die in a real scenario. Also, if we’re being totally honest, I’d likely die playing Raw Data alone because I wouldn’t have a “wire wrangler,” as my friends and I chose to call them, someone to make sure the wires extending from my headset were not in place to trip me. This contributes to my overall feeling that VR is some kind of population control targeted at gamers.
I should mention that while I was ducking from invisible danger—again, considering the external view of my shenanigans—I was utilizing a pump shotgun. Without the physical form to occupy your hands, the weapon compels you to clap your fists together often like you’re trying to kill mosquitoes with boxing gloves on. If you’re already overwhelmed by shooters, as I sometimes can be, playing Raw Data may freak you out to the point that you learn how to effectively pop and lock as you swing your body about the room. The benefits to society are numerous.
It’s possible I did not receive the “intended user experience” when playing Raw Data, but that’s really okay. As far as I’m concerned, I got a good taste of what the real future of video games may hold in store for able-bodied gamers with money to burn. It was fun, sort of like public karaoke in that the point is to feel ridiculous while you’re enjoying yourself. And that I did. When it does release, I suggest playing with a friend, and by “playing,” I mean asking them to wrangle the wires and save you from falling out the window.