Of everything I’ve ever done in VR — like shooting madmen in the face, exploring abandoned houses and dodging bullets in slow motion — signing on to tutor a Japanese schoolgirl is by far the most uncomfortable.
When I tried out the upcoming installment of Bandai Namco’s PlayStation VR conversation sim, Summer Lesson, at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, I expected a calm, cutesy palate cleanser. What a fool I was. The experience paired me up with privileged teen Chisato Shinjo, and right from the start I knew Summer Lesson would be a special brand of unpleasant: Chisato sauntered toward me, getting right up in my face. Without a controller in hand or an on-screen virtual avatar to look at — Summer Lesson is played using only head movements, looking at the girls in the eyes — I felt trapped in my own body.
What followed was five minutes of claustrophobia. Chisato circled around me, asking me questions that I could only respond to with a nod. Every response drew her closer, and closer, and closer still. I laughed out loud out of nervousness several times; I also backed away in my chair, almost knocking into the demo attendant.
But the new episode of Summer Lesson didn’t just test the limits of my physical boundaries. It turned out that hanging with Chisato wasn’t the fun ego boost of (Japanese inscrutable) compliments I hoped for. The girl lives in a creaky, Victorian style mansion, seemingly alone, and her interests include ... practicing magic tricks. Magic tricks that involve swords. Swords that she plunges into your body.
Again: What a fool I was. As the up-close-and-personal Chisato repeatedly dug a sword in the general direction of my kidney, I cringed and squealed and sat stricken with fear, mortified. Maybe this was how I die, I thought.
But then the demo was over with a colorful “To be continued,” and I walked away and laughed and tried to ignore how fast my heart was beating. Summer Lesson is deceptively cruel — at least, the Chisato episode is — but as an immersive, virtual reality horror experience, it kind of works.