Oculus Go for Old People, Part IV

Tom Nickel
6 min readAug 2, 2018
Author in the Go

Narrative in VR

Part of what I mean by ‘Oculus Go for Old People’ is that I’m writing for non-gamers. I’ve played some video games but I’m not a gamer. It matters because gaming is part of VR’s origin story. Gaming dominates VR as a “use case” and elements of gaming are inherent to VR as it is being presented today.

Today’s VR is a combination of gaming, documentaries, narrative fiction, animation, improv theater and probably other traditions too. How much of each one to keep in the mix is what makes or breaks VR experiences. A Dynamic EQ would be nice to adjust the levels for different demographics.

I’ve been writing about VR experiences available for the Oculus Go ever since I started using mine in May, 2018. I’ve described at least a dozen sources of immersive content that usually refer to their material as Experiences. They range from a day in a Syrian refugee camp to wardrobe selection for supermodels. I‘ve also explored Social VR, where we can all interact with other humans, using avatars. Nothing that I have found yet has much at all in the way of Narrative.

Virtual Virtual Reality

Why? Because all the good names were taken.

But all the good ideas weren’t, not by a long shot. Virtual Virtual Reality is based on a good idea. It’s a story about virtual reality told inside virtual reality, so the name even makes sense. Not that making sense is the most important aspect of a name.

It’s also a good story. It’s set in the future but there’s a history that gets pretty close to now. It examines huge themes that are current and aren’t being discussed enough, the takeover of most jobs by AI for one, and there’s more but I should leave it at that.

Most of all, Virtual Virtual Reality is unique, in a category of its own, at this moment, for Oculus Go users. There is actually a strong Narrative component. You get to know characters and they change as you learn more about them. You want to know what happens next.

Virtual Virtual Reality is so different from other VR Content I’ve written about that I’m not sure how to write about it. There are bits of information or insights-gained I would like to share that could ‘give away’ something you should try to figure out on your own. I don’t think I could say that about anything else I have done in VR to date.

Me not-knowing was behindhow Virtual Virtual Reality made me feel, which wasn’t always great. I didn’t know where the plot was going and probably shouldn’t even be revealing that there is a plot. Except that you are told that very early on.

Right up front in the Orientation, it is explained that you’re here to be hired out in a gig economy to clients of Activitude, operating in a future where AI runs everything. A robot named Chaz lets you know you’ll be assessed to see what skills you have that will make you employable .

Boom, you’re off on a gig. So far, so good.

Narrative and Gaming

Every gig is a new environment, simple but a different engaging presence every time. I felt like I was in a story at first but I had to do things with the VR hand controller to advance the narrative and I was clumsy at it. A gamer wouldn’t have been. The Oculus Go controller is tee-shirt league.

I didn’t do very well on my first assignments. I still don’t know if it was supposed to go that way or if my low skill level affected my experience. I could feel myself directing my frustration at my own ineptitude toward my AI bosses.

Slowly I began to learn more than was revealed in the Orientation. Again I still don’t know if I really accomplished something to gain my insights or if it would have happened anyway. I received some hints. Did everyone get them or just me because I suck?

Virtual Virtual Realty tells you how long you’ve been at it, so I know I’d put in over two hours when I got stuck. It’s advertised as a 3-Hour Entertainment, which confused me because if I couldn’t get unstuck it would be a Forever Entertainment. The whole Game vs Story duel in my mind was disorienting, even existential, because it was unclear how much agency I had.

I’m not a big fan of puzzles. I never would have made it through Myst without my then-teenage son doing the heavy lifting. With Myst, you knew you had to solve the damn thing to get to the Linking Books. Deep inside Virtual Virtual Realty, I did not have even that key certainty. If it was mostly a story, someone would come along and help me get to the next step.

So I waited. Nothing happened. I worked on the problem some more to the best of my limited abilities. No progress. If it was mostly a game and not a narrative, then I had to figure it out, because I felt like I was in the middle of something interesting and I wanted to know how it would turn out.

I tried some more.

Then I quit.

I didn’t want to get any more frustrated with my limitations than I already was. I took off the fucking headset and left the room.

Source: Wikimedia Commons


If I was a gamer I would have nailed Activitude in the time it took the real me to get warmed up. Still, gamer or not, I know there’s more than one way to get to the end of a story.

I know I would have experienced the deep joy that comes from accomplishing something difficult if I kept plugging away at the puzzles until I eventually solved them all. But that’s not what I signed up for. I thought I was getting mostly a story, with a few little challenges on the side to keep me engaged.

I’m not a couch potato. I’m a big believer in the deep joy of accomplishment and I have plenty of ways of experiencing it. Puzzles just don’t happen to be one of them. Using words is my single most developed skill, but I don’t even like crossword puzzles.

Looking back, I’m pleased with myself for going to the Virtual Virtual Reality online cheat pages.

When I saw how much more shit I had to get through, I realized the 3-Hour Entertainment was not measured using brains like mine. If I had dropped everything and focused just on Virtual Virtual Reality, I might have completed the challenges in 3-Days, but more likely it would have been 3-Months.

In the end, Tender Claws, the producers, were right! It was a 3-Hour Entertainment for me, in which I was initially drawn in, became increasingly frustrated, and then cheated in order to see how the story part works out, all in about three hours. If you’re anything like me and you get intrigued by the premise of Virtual Virtual Reality and then you get hung up on the puzzles, you’ll have to make up your own mind. Just so you know — there are options beyond Activitude.

My Personal Takeaways:

  1. I don’t expect to just sit back and passively observe the unfolding of a narrative, not all the time anyway, maybe sometimes. But I also don’t want to face a big personal challenge (and for me, that doesn’t take much) on my way to an ending.
  2. Being told to do things by an authority figure is a good way to engage me; it’s irritating and it makes me want to beat the system. The idea of AI being the authority and humans working for Robo-Overlords is definitely worth dramatizing immersively.
  3. Environments that aren’t made with a gazillion polygons can be fun, or ominous, or whatever emotion a storyteller wants to us to feel. Minimalist but well-chosen audio design along with strong, simple graphics were part of what appealed to me about Virtual Virtual Reality.
  4. I want to be in stories with people I like.



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos