I live in Oregon, and my state is on fire. The sky outside my window is a ruddy yellow-brown, imagine the foggiest day of your life and throw a sepia filter over it. That’s Portland right now. The air smells like a million-acre campfire and tastes bitter on your tongue. For a few hours as the sun sets, the sky becomes the color of spilt blood, and the sun looks like the eye of an angry god burning a hole in the world. It’s all a bit on the nose isn’t it?
Before the fires, VR had been an oasis from the crushing familiarity of an apartment I couldn’t leave. Now it’s even more of a refuge. When I’m wearing the Oculus Quest 2 I can’t see the stinging smoke or angry sky, and I breathe just a little easier. It’s a different kind of escapism than I get out of watching Peaky Blinders or playing Spiritfarer. It’s hard to engage with media in any meaningful (or escapist) way when even the sunlight is burning. Unless that media can take you by the hand and lead you into a different world.
Typically, tethered-to-a-desktop-PC VR is a real production to pull off. I have to clear some space, plug all the boxes and cables in, make sure the main cable isn’t knotted or kinked, put on my headset, adjust the straps, take it off, adjust the fit again, then fire up the game launcher. After that, I play for a few minutes while trying to stay hyper aware of the position of the cable so I don’t yank it out, and constantly peek through the bottom of the headset so I don’t trip on it and slam a hand into my desk (again).
It was even worse in the external-sensor days, when I’d have to position sensor lighthouses around the room to track my movements. If there wasn’t someone else there to handle all the setup and cables, being in VR was less immersive than watching a movie or playing a non-VR game. It’s easy to sink into a story playing out on screen when I’m reclined on a couch with the lights off. In VR, the constant need to be aware of my surroundings always split my attention in two and cooled down my excitement for virtual gaming.
The Oculus Quest was the first headset to change that. It doesn’t require any cords or a PC. It plays games all on its own, unless you want to tether to a PC for ultra-high-end experiences. It was the first headset that made me excited for VR. And I wasn’t alone. It flew off the shelves. Demand greatly outpaced supply, likely because it was a headset for people who didn’t want to set aside an entire room for VR. With the Quest, you could just clear a spot in your living room, or even just stay seated on the couch, and you were all set.
The last couple of days, I’ve taken my breaks with the new $299 Oculus Quest 2. Like its predecessor, it connects to my Wi-Fi and plays games all by itself, with two wireless motion controllers, a sleeker white design, and a few new abilities.
I tend to slide it on, plug some noise-canceling headphones into the headphone jack (it has speakers, but I like full immersion), and spend a little time with Quill the mouse knight from Moss. Sometimes I just open YouTube VR and watch high-resolution wildlife videos. Scuttling crabs, pristine beaches, primeval forests—I’ve visited them all with the Quest 2.
When I really need to sink into another world for a while, I close Slack for the day, eat a cannabis gummy, and spend some time playing Rez Infinite. Soaring through a ’90s version of cyberspace to a gentle, thumping synth soundtrack is a great way to forget about the ever-encroaching wildfires, if only for a while.
The Oculus Quest 2 is smaller than the original Quest, a bit lighter, less front-heavy—that’s impressive considering the displays are higher-res than ever before. It doesn’t feel like you’re wearing your dad’s binoculars on your face anymore. The head strap is looser; it’s all fabric now instead of semirigid soft-touch plastic. It’s a change I have mixed feelings about.
The fabric straps are much more comfortable, and they’re a bit easier to adjust. Problem is, the previous version’s head strap was shaped to sort of cradle the back of your head—and it had a hole I could tuck my ponytail through. This new one doesn’t, so it tends to slide down your nose a little bit over time, like a pair of glasses. It doesn’t slide much, but it is noticeable if you don’t have the straps adjusted just right.