There’s the aptly named Guided Meditation VR, a classic way to get in your daily practice. It helps having pleasing scenes to peruse with my eyes open, while still sitting quietly and focusing on my breath.
If I’m feeling particularly fidgety while still craving mindfulness, I’ll turn to my Index SteamVR base settings. My default “home,” called Summit Pavilion, is the aforementioned modern house in the mountains. I can walk around, interact with butterflies, or just train my gaze out into the distance.
For days I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll choose more recognizable places to meditate in, such as Dr. Who’s TARDIS, Rick and Morty’s garage, or the Dunder Mifflin office. Being able to virtually travel to places that are personally fun to me, with such fully realized backdrops, has transformed my meditation experience from resistance to enjoyment.
It’s no shock that stay-at-home orders can leave you feeling, well, stuck at home. Two of my treasured pastimes are traveling and hiking. Virtual reality has an answer for that too.
A quick search through the Steam store led me to find some impressive virtual maps of faraway locales. I could hang out on Castlerock Beach in Australia, traipse the foggy terrain of Iceland, even see the art of the Fushimi Inari shrine in Japan. These downloads are expansive, giving me plenty of space to teleport or use free locomotion as I explored, quelling my desires for real travel in a time where that’s not an option.
In lieu of traveling this past holiday season, I found solace in trips down memory lane instead. With Google’s VR version of Google Earth, I virtually returned to my hometown, skimming the streets and places of my childhood. This is great for any past trip—“flying” around Six Flags, the Grand Canyon, or Disneyland—mentally reliving the memories as I switched from aerial views to street views and back again. Simply being able to see these places in VR helped me cope with the nostalgia and longing to go somewhere. All without ever having to leave my chair.
Keeping up with socializing during a pandemic has forced people to turn to their devices for human connection more than ever. But FaceTime and Zoom keep my loved ones in pancake mode, trapped inside my screens. I’d tried VRChat, but felt overwhelmed with the customizability.
Hence Rec Room, a cross-platform remedy for my needs. I entered Rec Room after a friend kept insisting it was the greatest thing ever. “Come fight Jumbotron with me,” he’d say, but I was too nervous about joining a new online hangout to try it out.
Until I finally did, mostly out of sheer curiosity. And here’s the thing—it’s fun.
“Rec Room is the place people are going after school, after work, to spend time with friends,” says Nick Fajt, CEO of Rec Room. “It’s not just a game. It’s a destination, like a park, a restaurant, or a stadium.”
I immediately fell in love with the basic, oval-shaped androgynous human forms. Customizable in clothes, hair, and facial features only, the minimal design allows more of the actual person behind it to shine. I recognize the subtle head and arm movements of my individual friends, making it feel as though we truly are in the same room together.
Plus, there’s always something to do while hanging out. There’s bowling and darts for quieter evenings, or active adventures like Quest for the Golden Trophy and the Rise of Jumbotron, which puts our group into a nine-chapter quest, complete with rewards.
“We see Rec Room as a place where people can meet new people, hang out with old friends, or do both in the same session,” says Fajt. Virtually, the social distancing gap feels a bit more closed.
Plenty has already been said on the topic of VR as a fitness tool, so it was easy for me to turn to VR to shake out a requisite cardio routine.