As mentioned in January’s editorial earlier this week, Christmas can be a crazy time for us here in the Later Levels household. As well as the usual flurry of activity – travelling between family members, setting up toys gifted to younger relations, helping in the kitchen, stopping dad from snoring after he falls asleep on the sofa – being a step-parent family comes with its own set of challenges.
One such challenge was the fact we didn’t get to see my stepson Ethan on either the big day or Boxing Day. I won’t go into detail but suffice to say this wasn’t through choice; I’ve written before that our situation is almost like playing a co-op game and unfortunately sometimes you don’t win. We were a little worried about how the festive season would work out for us but it turned out to be one of the best we’ve had together.
We decided to take Ethan to Rezzed with us for the first time back in April, finally him deeming him old enough for the event. He was nervous about trying out virtual reality (VR) before we arrived but he couldn’t get enough of it after finding Giant Cop by Other Ocean. Consumer Sales Manager Gillian Hickman ended up becoming his new best friend and even let him play the last demo of the show (his third attempt).
Fast-forward seven months and my parents took him to a Christmas party with them in early December where they asked him what he was hoping to find under the tree. He told them he’d really love a PlayStation VR but wasn’t expecting one because it was ‘such a big present’… little did he know that my other-half and I had already been speaking to our families to organise everyone in clubbing together to get Ethan a very special gift.
The look on his face as he unwrapped it on the weekend before the big day was priceless – and unlike the time when I gifted a PlayStation 4 to the boys, I actually had a camera ready! We’d had the foresight to get a travel case to go along with the hardware so the PSVR came with us wherever we were that weekend, so my stepson could thank everyone and show them how to use it.
My dad was amazed at ‘how far the technology has come’ after remembering what it was like when it tried it in the early 1990s. My brother became hooked on Superhot before persuading my sister-in-law to try, and then ate his words she turned out to be great at VR Luge. Even the mums and my aunt had a go, coming face-to-face with a shark in Ocean Descent, before we took a break from VR with some Overcooked.
My stepson spent most of our time together being a mechanic or gourmet chef in Job Simulator. While it was great to find a game which was very suitable for his age, it’s one of the most mind-numbing titles to watch; all I can say is that his favourite YouTuber has a lot to answer for. Shoot-em-up Dick Wilde was much more entertaining and most of the family had a go at fending off the critter-horde.
I say ‘most of the family’ because I didn’t actually use the headset myself. I’ve tried VR several times in recent years and I’m sadly one of those unlucky individuals who suffer from the motion-sickness, feeling queasy after a few minutes and wanting to get back to real-life. That didn’t stop me from enjoying watching my other-half play The Assembly after Ethan had gone to bed though, helping with the puzzles and figuring out which decisions to take.
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) December 30, 2017
It also didn’t stop me from feeling included. VR has the potential to be an isolating because the experience is private to the user and they shut themselves away when they put on a headset. But because the entire family was gathered around watching what was happening on the television, throwing out helpful advice and making jokes, it felt as if we were all enjoying a shared gaming experience.
Some people will read this post and feel as though we’ve spoiled my stepson by giving him such a present. That’s something I’ve always been conscious of and as mentioned above, being part of a step-parent household comes with unique obstacles. I’m still learning but I think we’ve navigated the majority quite positively so far, and we’re realistic about those which will come our way in the future.
A PSVR was a big investment, but it was one our family members were happy to be included in and it was great for all of us to be able to give Ethan something he really wanted. He wasn’t remotely bothered that there was only a single gift waiting for him under the tree this year and seemed to get just as much pleasure from teaching other people how to play the games than from playing them himself.
So we went from worrying about not seeing my stepson on Christmas day to the entire family coming together to enjoy an amazing ‘merry not-Christmas‘ (as we started saying); and we took a potentially solitary experience and turned it into a lovely social one. No doubt the future will hold many more VR experiences for Ethan and he’ll be roping the rest of the family into the journey with him, whether we’re happy to use the headset ourselves or simply watch others doing so.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.