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Virtual reality can make guns 'real,' and that's a bit terrifying

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A sandbox is a place to play, and that can feel strange when the toys are firearms

Hot Dogs, Horse Shoes and Hand Grenades is an early access game for the HTC Vive virtual reality platform, and it's billed as a sort of virtual sandbox to play with guns and explosives. There's a simple arcade shooting game and some target ranges, with more content on the way.

It's very well done in that it feels like each gun is a physical object with its own rules and interactions. It feels a bit strange to use a scope in virtual reality when you have to actually hold the gun up to your eye, and requiring the use of two hands to "accurately" handle reloading and putting a round in the chamber is fascinating. The experience treats the firearm less like a prop in an action movie and more like an actual mechanical object.

Which is why I felt uncomfortable while playing.

I don't personally like guns, and that's more personal than cultural. I grew up in the south, which means I was surrounded by people who owned and enjoyed guns. I've been to the range a few times and have gone shooting out in the woods on land owned by friends and family. Those were also heavily supervised situations, however, and I never realized how little I knew about how guns worked and basic safety until I spent some time in this game.

guns vr 2

Hot Dogs, Horse Shoes and Hand Grenades is $19.99 and is available now, with more content being added on a regular basis. I don't know if I had "fun" playing it, as the video suggests, but I'm glad it exists. It proves how powerful a medium virtual reality can be for encountering something that may make you uncomfortable in real life in a way that's completely safe.

I can also see actual gun safety being taught by virtual reality programs such as this. Imagine games in which your firearm becomes a working machine, forcing the player to learn proper use and perhaps even maintenance. What happens when your gun jams in the middle of a firefight? How do tactics change when the bullets left in the clip actually stay in the clip when it's removed during reloading?

My cultural, virtual and real-world relationship with guns is complex, and virtual reality provides a means to explore that a bit in my home. The conversation about guns and violence in virtual reality is only beginning and it will likely continue for some time.