He dons the world's ugliest headset to play a first-person shooter game called Dactyl Nightmare. The game looks awful even by mid-'90s standards, a time capsule of that decade's failure to commercialize VR, and is mainly there to add tension to the fact that the First Kid is being stalked by a kidnapper, Timothy Busfield in a creepy mustache.
But here's the thing: That one cheesy scene is practically the only thing I retained from the movie, as I realized when starting this article. Much as "The Lawnmower Man" did for moviegoers a little older than I, "First Kid" buried the idea of easily accessible VR games in my memory: "Wouldn't it be cool if…?"
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Now we're in another VR hype cycle, and headsets like the Oculus Rift are nearing ready-for-consumer models. One of the biggest problems with Oculus' most recent prototype, dubbed Crescent Bay, is a logistical one: The company has figured out how to make users feel like they are walking in a virtual space — some Oculus Connect attendees said they cried after their demo — but the impressive technology still requires a space to walk in, and a hefty cable connecting the headset to a powerful computer.
Although the business model of the videogame arcade followed '90s VR into death, a return of the arcade could fix that logistical problem. Just as the Virtuality attendant ushers the First Kid into the machine, businesses eager to capitalize on consumer curiosity about VR could entrust that person to safely guide users into and out of VR; for what it's worth, every one of the more than 20 demos I've done of the Oculus Rift has been guided by an attendant.
The arcade idea comes with its own share of problems, however.
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In a recent interview with Re/code, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell said Oculus' improvements over past VR technology means "previous failed attempts can now be a reality." But he said he's "a little nervous" about the arcade idea.
"Public spaces need to maintain very sanitary conditions," Bushnell said. "We're used to our hands being dirty, and wash them, [so] people don't get sick from joysticks. But what about lice on the headset? I'm very skeptical of that, without tremendous resources centered around making sure everything is sanitary."