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.
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.