A few months ago I had my first experience with virtual reality. I had booked an appointment at a local shopping centre to try out the PlayStation VR headset. I arrived not really knowing what to expect, with mostly anecdotal evidence and some pre-release coverage to guide me. All of which was overwhelmingly positive, by all accounts Sony’s new hardware was the real deal, and already had an impassioned fan-base championing it. I was notably apprehensive, up to this point I had carried a morbid curiosity about the tech, on one hand understanding the quantum leap it could mean for gaming, while on the other hand finding myself unconvinced by Sony’s lack of information and marketing push leading up to the release.

All of my doubts were shattered in an instant, the game was Batman: Arkham VR, Rocksteady’s foray into virtual reality. The demo started with me standing atop a rooftop in Gotham city, the bat signal shined in the foggy sky and behind me buildings towered. The sense of scale was unlike anything else I had experienced and the following minutes only cemented the demo as one of the best gaming experiences of my life.
Fast forward to release and I spent the day cobbling together all I needed to get the headset up and running. The first game I played through was Rez Infinite, I was hooked, this really was a whole new way to play games. I had fully expected the hardware to give me a new way to play games, what I hadn’t expected was the effect the headset would have on my state of mind, specifically my anxiety.
Leading up to release there had always been a nagging sense of dread in my mind. On a day to day basis I suffer from a severe generalized anxiety disorder. It is unpredictable and at times debilitating. I was worried that the headset would confine me inside a space that would trigger a panic attack, meaning I wouldn’t be able to use the headset at all. My short time with the demo was uneventful in terms of anxiety but this wasn’t enough time to truly gauge whether I would be able to cope long-term. Regardless, I decided to take a gamble and get the headset anyway.
After two months with the headset I can report that none of my fears have materialised, in fact the very opposite has occurred, virtual reality is actively helping to ease my day to day anxiety. It has given me a way to fully remove myself from the real world in a way unparalleled by any other form of escapism. Sure, regular games can help you through hard times by distracting your attention elsewhere, but they are never truly immersive, never holding all of your attention. So often I’m finding myself sat with the headset on, headphones on, snapping back into realisation that I am actually in the room playing a video game. My mind is completely focused on and quite frankly fooled by the world rendered by the headset. On nights when my anxiety is particularly bad, I’ll put on the headset and play a few rounds of Super hypercube, hours pass and I realise I haven’t thought about or even noticed my anxiety the whole time. This is unprecedented for me, a way to completely get out of my own mind is something I haven’t even been able to get close to in the past, the only real equivalent(with a lot more negative side effects) being the use of illicit substances. So finding a way to do this without resorting to anything that will inevitably do me harm in the long run is a huge breakthrough for me.
One main issue I have at the moment is finding a space to meditate ever day, I share a studio apartment with my partner, next to a busy street and find it hard to find a space free of distraction. Recently I have been loading up the home screen for the PlayStation VR demo disc, a white ambient space, and using it to meditate in. In an increasingly crowded world, a space completely free from distractions is invaluable.
While the implications virtual reality will have on gaming excite me, gaming is after all going to be the proving ground for the technology, I find myself more compelled by the applications outside of gaming. It is my belief that virtual reality will be used to treat mental illness in the future and the fact that I am already finding such utility in this area is all the proof I need.

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