In many ways, games are a proxy to a world that we can't quite reach, a simulation devoid of any of the drawbacks that one might expect from reality. Everyone knows killing people is wrong but no one said anything about killing digital people. Becoming a parkour master sounds like fun but how many shins will we have to bruise before we get there? Gaming gives you a free pass to the otherwise unobtainable.
Virtual reality is intended to be the next great leap for immersion, replacing the twiddling of thumbs for the flailing of arms. However, for every time you repeatedly fumble a magazine in Hotdogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, every time that being behind the wheel of an Ariel Atom in Project Cars threatens to return your lunch, or for every second you remain unconvinced that you are a goldfish in Goldfish VR, the divide between badass, engrossing fantasy and disappointing, cable-covered reality continues to grow.
Despite VR not quite being at the point where we can happily toss aside our televisions yet, the world is full of sensible people chasing fantasies. If you find yourself at a point where your favourite video game isn't quite sating your desire for immersion then you can bet someone else out there has had the same thought, made a real life counterpart and built a community around it. Sure, things can get a little expensive but can you really put a price on your favourite video games made manifest? Here are the best real life gaming experiences that you can try right now.
Full Contact Medieval Combat
Leagues such as the International Medieval Combat Federation and the Historic Medieval Battles International Association host tournaments in picturesque castles across the globe, divided into different classes based on number of participants. While 1v1 battles will reward the fighters based on a tally of undefended strikes, bigger battles such as the 5v5, 10v10 or 16v16 are scored solely on who is left standing when the fight is over. Even with armour costing well into the thousands, injuries are not uncommon. One thing is for sure though, the view from your narrow helmet visor of a dozen knights charging towards you will stay with you far longer than any recollection of pushing samurais off cliffs that For Honor has instilled.
Perhaps bashing people with lumps of metal is a little too archaic for you? Not to worry. Despite being around since the 70s and receiving much wider recognition today than ever before, the phrase 'airsoft' still leads to a lot of scratched heads. The sport shares a number of similarities with paintball, equipping its players with projectile weapons and eye protection, ensuring a painful yet safe experience for wannabe operators. Airsoft diverges from its sister sport in its striving for greater realism, with weapons bearing a much closer resemblance to their real life counterparts and featuring greater shot accuracy due to the small plastic ammunition used. Arenas come in all sorts of flavours such as abandoned nuclear plants, military bases, dense woodland or closer, more intimate environments like the one shown below in airsoft YouTuber NOVRITSCH's video.
The difference in immersion levels between tapping a few buttons in the comfort of your own home and turning up to a three day military simulation event with a full-metal assault rifle and a compliment of tactical gear is night and day. Similarly, as entertaining as it can be to hear angry children scream down the microphone as you stomp on their fun, the joy of firing a 6mm BB into the nutsack of your real life enemy cannot be rivalled by any virtual kill. One key difference, however, is expense. The pursuit of unlocks in Call of Duty may use up your precious time, but the need for more airsoft equipment will quickly use up your spare cash. Guns, gear, and game days all add up to a pretty penny and as every gamer knows, one gun is never enough.
For fans of: Wipeout, Formula Fusion, AiRace Speed
In all likelihood, VR technology will reach its zenith before we gain access to anti-gravity race machines. Until that point, there is an alternative in the form of drone racing. While we typically associate drones with slow-moving, hovering bundles of expense, the quadcopters currently being used in Drone Racing League events across America, China, and Dubai are anything but. Designed almost exclusively to move forwards and quickly (many can reach over 50mph), these little machines can pull off feats of aerial acrobatics that would make any Wipeout enthusiast blush, just on a much smaller scale.
Each drone is piloted via FPV technology. Essentially, the pilot wears a set of goggles much like a VR headset. The goggles receive a first person perspective via radio waves transmitted from a camera mounted to the front of the drone. At this point you might argue that there isn't a huge amount of difference between staring at a screen and playing a video game than staring at a screen and flying a drone but you would be dead wrong. The difference is a matter of stakes – when you crash on Wipeout your hard-earned games console doesn't explode in your face. When you crash your drone you have to explain yourself to whatever spouse/mother/father that holds dominion over your finances. Manually piloting a physical, palpable entity is all the more nerve-wracking than positioning pixels because you have so much more to lose and, as a result, so much more to gain.
The Assassination Game
For fans of: Assassin's Creed, Hitman, Tenchu
This one is primarily for university students though there's no saying that you can't play it with any group of friends as long as there's a bunch of you and you're organised. The illustrious life of an assassin has long been sought after though, for many, an aggravating unwillingness to end human life has continued to stand in the way. Video games have provided a small outlet but with Assassin's Creed determined to repeat its tried and tested formula ad infinitum, and Hitman's future in crisis, a VR assassin simulator looks to be a pipe dream. For now, students have formed special assassination societies that turn their towns and campuses into a not-so deadly game of cat and mouse. Forge TV's video below goes into a bit more detail about what it all entails.
You and however many fellow crazies you can muster will each be given the name and details of one other player. From that point on it's a race against time to eliminate your mark before someone else takes you out. Murder tools can be as simple as a Nerf gun, as crafty as a piece of paper stuck to the bottom of a glass with 'poison' written on it, or as complex as dressing up as a werewolf and savagely mauling your target. Presumably anyway, the video didn't say you couldn't enlist werewolves. So if you are the type who never wants to let their guard down and loves to make a massive scene in public, you have options. Just remember it's not hard to get in trouble when you go about assassinating people in the streets, real or not.
The tank paintball scene is pretty niche right now but there's plenty of other 60 tonne catharsis to be found if you are willing to travel for it. A number of sites across the UK and America will happily allow you to crush cars and one site in Texas will actually let you fire real rounds from the primary gun of an MBT. No matter how far VR develops there's little chance it will ever be able to provide the same level of satisfaction that can be reaped from the bone-jarring joy of operating your very own tank.
For fans of: XCOM, Civilization, Europa Universalis
Even the very best strategy games fail to deliver what a megagame can – total chaos. Games like XCOM and Civ, while amazing, are ultimately still made up of lines of code that can be exploited. A megagame is a massive social game made up of various teams of human players each striving to achieve a predetermined goal suitable for their character's assigned personality and affiliation. Politics, economics, military power, alien invasion, zombie pandemics and more can all contribute to the flow of a megagame. If all of that sounds rather vague then that's ok because megagames are fluid by their very nature, only involving an initial game brief and minimal further intervention from referees. Oftentimes the whole point is for games to go off on wild tangents that no one could have predicted. For a closer look at how one of these things might play out, check out the video below from BRIC TV as they investigate a megagame based in New York City.
It's one thing to get angry at Gandhi for once again blanketing your lands in nuclear hellfire on Civ, it's another thing entirely to be part of a huge interconnected live-action social game in which you are backstabbed by an alien imposter pope. Essentially, from the moment that you are assigned your identity you are no longer a player dictating the actions of a character, you are the character. Every decision that you make, every interaction that you have with a rival faction, and every strange costume you insist on wearing affects the narrative of that game as a whole.
For fans of: Probably Archery, Mount and Blade, Tomb Raider
On the list of things you probably shouldn't be firing at other people, arrows score pretty highly. Luckily, archery tag is actually far safer than you might expect, ensuring that even the youngest of children won't be restricted from receiving an arrow to the face. Played as a sort of higher intensity version of dodgeball, archery tag pits two opposing teams against each other with a vast supply of foam tipped arrows and a couple of handy chest-high walls, proving that they do in fact exist outside of typical third-person shooters. If you still aren't convinced about the game's safety, you can clearly see a participant get hit square in the crotch in the video below and continue to keep on fighting.
Archery tag hasn't quite reached the point where you'll be stalking enemies from the bushes across a tropical island ala Far Cry 3 but there is definitely room for the sport to grow in both intensity and ambition. And it surely will need to with games like Longbow and QuiVr already laying a strong groundwork for future VR archery titles. This could be a case where virtual reality actually will be able to vastly outdo what real-life has to offer within the near future. A VR game where you could play as Legolas at Helm's Deep would simply be too badass to contend with but, for now, go tag your buddies with arrows, it's fun.
For fans of: Super Mario, N++, Mirror's Edge
Yes, yes, these do require a certain level of fitness and frankly some of the obstacle courses out there are beyond sadistic but maybe it's time you realised exactly what you've been putting Mario through all of these years. Jumping all day long, running without a single break, and falling down chasms is not a walk in the park, ok? Assault courses have long been associated with boot camp but over the last decade they have become much more varied, offering totally different experiences based on how hardcore the participant finds themselves to be. Charming inflatable courses like the Labyrinth challenge are about as close as you'll get to hopping through the colourful worlds of your favourite old school platformers.
Off Road Karting
For fans of: Dirt, World Rally Championship, V-Rally
For those lacking a driving license or an excess of cash, off road karting may very well be the best way to experience rally driving. Go karts can already feel fast when you are speeding on concrete; off road the things get all the more exhilarating. Whatever sense of speed you've come to enjoy from dollops of exaggerated motion blur will feel like nothing compared to the rapid approach of a sharp bend, engine roaring underneath and covered in mud. The nimble motors come in all shapes and sizes though, given the choice, it would probably be best to choose a venue with twin-seated karts so you can embrace that familiar feeling of ignoring everything your co-driver says as you blaze away at top speed.
The racing genre has been one of the few that has easily introduced VR without having to rethink the entire development process. While Dirt Rally has received a lot of praise for its VR functionality as well as being an altogether great game, a portion of the playerbase has been struck with insurmountable nausea. It's not a problem exclusively tied to Dirt either as other racers, especially Driveclub, have been causing their fair share of gastric distress. Given the high price tag associated with VR tech it hits particularly hard when one has to cast it aside just so they won't vomit.
And there you have it, 10 real life experiences better than VR. No one is saying you should throw out your games console or your shiny headset, especially not when phenomenal titles like Thumper, Resident Evil 7, and Elite: Dangerous continue to prove the tech's potential. What we can say is 'look around'; whole new worlds may be closer than you think.