Here is some exciting news: my mom, her longtime partner, and my aunt are all now fully vaccinated (Pfizer) — and so am I. Later this month I’ll be staying at the coast with my mom and aunt for our first visit since we briefly (and riskily, in retrospect) got together late last spring. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I do recall there was something particularly awful going on politically so THAT ought to narrow it down, ha ha haaargghh.

Between the four of us, it doesn’t sound like anyone got whammied with the more severe-sounding side effects, although my aunt reports of a friend whose freshly-vaccinated husband had brain fog to the point where he couldn’t identify his dinner that night. (“What IS that??” “…A potato.”)

My vaccine opportunity came about through hospice, as a volunteer I was offered access to the leftovers from an all-day clinic for healthcare workers. When I first got the notification I went through a bunch of ethical hand-wringing, but ultimately decided that as long as I wasn’t actively stepping in front of someone else’s place in line, I should go ahead.

Both clinics I went to (the initial, plus the follow-up, which was made by appointment) were held in the hospital, they were very well managed and not remotely crowded. The shot itself was given from a worker at one of several tables set up in a conference room, then each of us was sent to an observation room to hang out for 15 minutes.

The vibe at both clinics was a DELIGHT. Everyone was in a good mood, and that alone was enormously bolstering. All of us in the observation room seemed to have the same air of gratitude and awe and hope: despite the distancing and masks there was somehow the feeling of a group high five.

I had a sore arm both times but that was it. After my second shot I walked out of that hospital teary-eyed with a great swelling of emotion I couldn’t even really unpack. A tangled-up mix of admiration and frustration for us humans: look at how so many of us try to take care of each other, look how many choose not to.

Our family now has an Oculus VR headset (the Quest 2). It’s technically mine since it was a birthday gift but I am not so miserly as to not allow others to enjoy it, even though no one else ever wipes down the interior goggles, which: rude.

Have you tried a VR system? My only prior experience with one was at a VR gaming salon type business in town, I took the kids there a few years back and asked the bored employee to get us set up with some not-too-intense games and he promptly hooked me into what I can only describe as the MOST TERRIFYING GAME I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED OR EVEN REALIZED EXISTED. I cannot remember what it was called (“Shit Your Pants Both Aggressively and Continuously” was surely the working title) but it involved being trapped in the dark and fighting a slew of very bitey zombies and it turns out my enjoyment of zombies as a horror topic does not in fact extend to an immersive game where it actually feels like there are fucking zombies and they are right there with their teeth.

There are, however, a whole lot of really fun non-zombie-based games to explore in VR, and even at least one zombie game (Arizona Sunshine) that is far less scary to play.

The Quest 2 is a wireless headset that you wear, along with two controllers that visually morph into different things (hands, a gun, a tool, boxing gloves, ping pong paddle, lightsabers, bats) depending on the game environment. The controllers have multiple elements including a thingamajig that’s like a toggle which is what you use to “move” in some games: you essentially point at where you want to go, and blip! you’re there. It’s a bit like stop-motioning your way along but apparently solves the infamous VR challenge of getting from Point A to Point B in a non-carsicky kind of way.

So, what does it feel like to be in an Oculus game? It’s pretty damn amazing, really. I mean, it’s clearly a digital environment, it’s not like WHOAH IS THIS REAL LIFE I LITERALLY CANNOT EVEN TELL, but the cues your brain sends your body in VR are strong: like, actual wooziness from heights, etc.

The games I’ve been enjoying the most are Beat Saber and Supernatural, which are both games that involve physical movement: slicing or striking things that come at you, dodging or ducking under obstacles. Beat Saber is my favorite, it’s like a whole-bodied version of Fruit Ninja but much more delightful and set to music. Supernatural is more fitness focused with virtual trainers and photorealistic natural settings (as opposed to Beat Saber’s Tron-like neon atmosphere).

I cannot explain why it is so incredibly satisfying to slice digital blocks in half BUT IT IS. Fully gamified exercise is not a thing I have tried before and I am totally here for it. For me the Oculus doesn’t replace ‘real world’ workouts but it’s 20+ minutes of daily sweaty cardio that is 100 percent fun, no motivation required. Plus I like to tell myself that this type of gaming builds up reflexes and improves the mind-body connection (which is not a thing I know to be true but it seems like it could be true, thank you for coming to my unresearched and probably wildly inaccurate TED talk).

Other games I have tried and enjoyed: The Thrill of the Fight (boxing virtual opponents, John loves this one), The Climb (rock climbing, this one made my hands too sweaty), Superhot (fun but nerve wracking since I am a terrible shot), and Vader Immortal: Episode 1 (like being INSIDE a Star Wars movie, no shit).

On the con side of things, the system is occasionally prone to glitches, I feel like it’s pretty common that I have to restart a game or even reboot the headset. The headset itself isn’t uncomfortable but it leaves a ski-goggle type indentation on my forehead after I use it for a while, which would probably be a bigger deal if I ever, you know, LEFT THE HOUSE.

Also, you do need some space for playing, although not much space. I use the Oculus in our living room, which is pretty small. Part of gameplay involves drawing a boundary on the floor, avoiding tables and cats and whatnot, and then during every game there is a “guardian” grid that pops up all around you like a cage if you cross the boundary. It’s a fairly effective reminder, but that said I have totally observed Riley nearly taking out our TV when backing away from something in a game, so clearly it’s possible to stubbornly ignore the Oculus’s valiant attempt to keep its users alive.

Well! I don’t know how “I got an Oculus and it’s super fun!” turned into this long-ass ramble but on a final note I will say that the most tragic thing about VR gaming thus far is how utterly convinced I was, inside the game, that my real-life person in the living room looked … I don’t know, sort of cool? Badass? I mean here I am wielding these saber things and I picture that’s how I look, rhythmically slashing away with glowing swords like some sort of DANCE PIRATE.

However, in real life what it generally looks like is a person in a clunky headset batting wildly at a cloud of flies, which is why I recommend raising the blinds before gametime because I can tell you from experience it’s better if the UPS guy doesn’t know exactly how uncool of a non-pirate you really are.

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