Last week was a pretty big milestone for me, as I finally got myself one of those fancy “smartphones” the kids are raving about these days. To understand what a big leap this is for me, you have to understand that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life with prepaid flip phones from gas stations, only to then move to using a Blackberry, which blew my mind with its ability to (eventually) load a web page. Thankfully, I don’t really call people much. If I did, it usually sounded like I was tied up in someone’s trunk, resting my head in the general direction of the receiver. So yeah, getting a phone that was made this decade, let alone the past year, was a fairly huge deal in my little world.
So what did I need the significant upgrade for? My busy adult life? My ever-expanding assortment of social engagements? The ability to trade stocks on the go?
Nah. I just wanted to get a VR headset.
After spending a few days with the Gear VR, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near qualified to offer much analysis. I mean, it’s really cool, obviously, but I’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of what it has to offer, mostly just swiveling in my chair looking at 360 photos of Romania. Considering how early we still are, there’s not much in the way of must-have software or anything. I’d love to try a game or two at some point, but the price points aren’t very welcoming, especially for what seem like gussied-up mobile games. So until I’m ready to dive in completely, I’m mostly going to stick to whatever’s free.
That’s how I stumbled upon this gem.
As someone with social anxiety, I could certainly benefit from a program designed to get over some of those fears. What Public Speaking Simulator offers is more a proof of concept than anything, though, like an extended demo for something that will likely be modified and monetized in the future. The intro includes you standing on stage in a large meeting room whilst low-poly figures look bored in front of you. You’re then given the option to record yourself speaking in this simulated environment. Personally, I’ve never had much of an issue speaking in front of 32-bit Playstation models, but if that’s a particular hang up of yours, I’m not here to judge.
For those of us a bit more concerned with speaking in front of actual humans, there are additional “trainings” on offer, which are really just 360 video of you talking to an attractive girl. Fair shakes to the developers for assuming that anyone using a VR headset in their room to practice not sounding like an idiot is probably male. As one of those idiots, I loaded up these scenarios to see how I would fair.
Cafe – So I’m in a coffee shop of sorts. Sitting across from me is a very cute young woman. Heh. She seems my type; a little nerdy. This is when I realize that you can’t actually have conversations, as the video is nothing but the other person pantomiming responses to what they assume you’re saying and making uncomfortable amounts of eye contact. I was then told to ask her about her book, but I was too busy looking around me. For some reason, the ceiling in this establishment is disturbingly high. Also, there’s a Justin Beiber concert playing on the TV. She hasn’t eaten any of her food. But no, seriously, why is the ceiling so damn high? Apparently I missed a lot of the prompts and we’ve already moved to the part where we’re exchanging phone numbers. This was the point when my cat, in the real world, decided to jump into my lap, prompting me to briefly think that the woman was playing very inappropriate footsie before I let out a Wilhelm Scream and abruptly returned to the real world. Come to think of it, I never did get her number.
Park – This one gave me the option to include dialogue bubbles to fill in the awkward silences. Upon trying it out, I very quickly learned that English is not the first language of the fine folks behind Public Speaking Simulator. If that wasn’t a tip-off, the fact that I’m standing in a snowy park in Russia may have also clued me in. The exchange wasn’t really my style, so I tried again with the pantomiming and proceeded to tell her about the cafe I was in and the really high ceilings. She was captivated during my entire monologue, only drawing her lustful gaze away to occasionally tend to her dog. I think her name was Alissa or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.
Bar – I’m sitting next to a lovely blonde in a bar that I would never ever actually be in. The ceilings aren’t as high, but the bartender is doing cool flippy cup tricks and it’s distracting. Yes, for the record, I am this absent minded in the real world, as well. I decided to let her down easily, as Alissa and I have kind of a serious thing going. As this video seemed to only last for about 20 seconds, I’m going to assume it cut out just before she ran out of the bar, a tearful wreck due to my rampant virtual promiscuity. Well, this certainly took a turn.
Look, I really don’t want to rag on something that seems to have its heart in the right place. The problem is that outside of a very specific use-case (practicing a speech), there isn’t much benefit here. Typically, we’re afraid of social interaction because of the very real possibly that we’ll be negatively judged. Talking to a pleasant attractive person is easy, once we know they’re pleasant. Hell, I wish it was a situation that came up more often. Maybe it’s too much to ask for there to be a bit more negative reinforcement, showing that sometimes interactions will go awry and life simply goes on. As it stands now, you can only talk in front of NPCs or play a mime dating sim where there’s no fail state.
Whilst it can be fun to say completely random things knowing that I’ll still end up with a phone number in the end, it doesn’t really factor into how I’d handle the same situations in the real world. If I were to meet any of the same actresses outside of VR, there would likely be much less vapid nodding on their part and way more awkward pauses, figity hands, and apologies for bothering them on mine.