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What I learned getting my tarot read in VR (update)

The surprising beauty of a virtual reality fortune teller

Update (Oct. 27): Kismet is now available for the PlayStation VR, for a reasonable $6.99, and everything we enjoyed about the experience made the trip over. It's actually pretty amazing how much of the game's graphical fidelity and detail the team at Psyop was able to cram into the PlayStation 4. Kismet is one of the few non-gaming programs released for the PlayStation VR, so it may have an uphill battle ahead of it on a console designed for gaming, but we hope you'll at least give it a shot.

Original story: How much would you pay to know the future?

Kismet is a virtual reality divination program that uses both the tarot and astrology to read your fortune and no, the team behind it isn't joking.

An ancient art

"In the astrology section, Kismet is able to recognize actual current celestial events like eclipses, moon phases and planetary transits, so the information provided will be different and relevant every calendar day," David Chontos, Kismet's writer and director, told Polygon.

"The fortune cards that are provided after your reading are an homage to similar cards that may have been dispensed from a mechanical Zoltar arcade machine," he continued. "There are hundreds of unique fortunes, each lovingly penned by my very own writer-mother, Jacqueline Chontos; who better to dish advice?"

It was important that the divination and fortune telling "feel" real, he explained.

"I spent a lot of time doing research about both the tarot and astrology mechanics," Chontos said. "Luckily the system of a three-card tarot reading is relatively straightforward, especially when limited to the 22 cards of Major Arcana. Each card has a specific meaning in its respective position, but there are also adjacent combinations that can alter the interpretation of both cards involved. Writing and considering all of this, as you can imagine, was very time-consuming but incredibly satisfying for the problem-solver in me."

I've never believed in astrology or fortune telling, but the original pitch for coverage was surprisingly earnest and sincere. I wanted to give the program a shot and, to my surprise, I found the process of having my tarot read both calming and helpful for my mental health. It gave me a few minutes every day to think about the most pressing thing on my mind, and to have someone else talk about it, even if it all happened inside a headset. It was a quiet moment for contemplation and mindfulness.

"The concept of psychic advisers has maintained a profound importance in human culture for thousands of years, and has a rich and beautiful history of art and craft that I have always found captivating," Chontos told me when I brought this up.

"I do not believe in the supernatural of any variety, but I do believe, however, that a reading from a talented intuitive can be some of the best advice you may ever get," he continued. "I consider it to be hyper-natural that someone can be so tuned into your physical and emotional micro-reactions to words and symbols that they can actually offer you valuable feedback on what's going on in your life at the moment."

kismet 1

The game obviously doesn't have a way to see you, and only asks you to "focus" on a particular question, but the tarot readings are an interesting combination of actionable advice and general notes about life. I had no illusions about my interaction with the program, but by thinking of one question or problem and thinking about how the reading may pertain to that issue, I was able to look at it in a slightly different way.

"I tried my best to walk the fine line between sweeping generality and over-specificity," Chontos said. "We also employed the help of an incredible intuitive and tarot card reader, Marcella Kroll, to make sure we were as accurate as possible, and most importantly, respectful of her craft."

The cards seem like living things

There's also the fact that the game's environments are so immediately striking. The butterflies under glass slowly flap their wings. The cat on the table to your left sleeps with one eye open. You're sent to a swirling, expansive version of the solar system when you're hearing about yourself astrologically. It's a comfortable, often wondrous tour through the options the game offers.

The tarot cards themselves have an interesting sense of depth of detail, and each one comes with its own internal animations. They seem like living things, and invite you to lean forward to explore their construction. It's one of the best parts of the game.

"One of my favorite artists, Edmund Liang, and I designed the deck together, and he hand-painted every single gorgeous card," Chontos said. "We wanted to add depth and animation to them, so we imagined them as living, paper doll cutout dioramas. If you lean in close to them, you can even hear them."

The design of the fortune teller herself is based on classical automatons, and she'll even play a fun, dice-based game with you if you'd like, complete with another detailed background. Kismet is available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive right now through Steam, and it's been one of the most pleasant surprises I've found yet in VR. It's a calm, contemplative way to add a bit of peace and magic into your day.

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