This weekend I lost my virtual reality virginity. I finally got the chance to don some VR goggles. Their aesthetic alone is so damn cyberpunk; they offer great visuals before you even see what's inside them. Once I slid the HTC Vive over my eyes to preview Isaac Cohen's new Blarp! game, I blurted outloud like every novice must have also done.
The goal of Blarp! is to wield a ball around like a lasso, flicking it at other objects, collecting points and moving onto other stages, while avoiding your own flying tool. I admittedly didn't get very far; not because I'm new to VR, but really because I'm a pretty terrible gamer. I felt unsure of my footing and moved carefully, gripping the controllers in my hands tighter than necessary. A gridded cube wraps itself around me, making things somewhat claustrophobic as I'm dodging flying objects and trying not to hit my head on a fictitious ceiling. The feeling is very physical; the harder you fling stuff, the farther it goes. And the more velocity they have, the farther they bounce off your shield.
As otherworldly as the experience was, the wiry design, limited color scheme, and low-bit aesthetic is evidence of how far things yet have to go. It's a bit like looking at how Pong must have seemed and understanding that we were just getting started. "I always thought of the mechanics of Blarp! a bit like Snake or Pong, not as iconic or precise, but still maybe what I'm thinking about is just scope of project," Cohen muses. "I feel like we need to be working on some haikus before we finish a novel. I hope that we try and learn to be poetic and precise before we make the massive objects."
The comment elaborates on the scope of understanding still ahead of us, but is also reflective of Cohen's general outlook toward technology. His personal projects, Rainbow Membrane and Enough, were more about making the digital space more human and comfortable. Many of them are mostly unfinished and are even a means of finding peace within himself. He can meditate on coding and find reprieve from the physical world with them.
Escaping into VR experiments are definitely valuable digital haikus for today. While the majority of the population doesn't even have access to the hardware needed to experience VR projects, and many of the products we see now are really built for other developers. Cohen thinks this is a necessary progression, "It's a very important thing right now to be building objects for other developers, to help sort of make mistakes so other people don't have to, or to find little nuggets of truth or interaction that other people can use. However, I deeply hope that in this medium, the difference between developers and the general public becomes less and less of a distinction."
More of Isaac Cohen’s works can be found on his website.