A Spoonie’s Guide to VR

First and foremost, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “spoonie”, I highly recommend you check out Spoon Theory. Long story short, “Spoonie” is a moniker adopted by the Chronic Illness community. “Spoons” are a metaphor for the limited energy we may (or may not) have to spend on any given day. Some days, we may have no spoons at all- or even negative spoons. Oof, those days are rough.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “VR”, you should know that’s short for Virtual Reality, and this is something which I have fallen head over heels in love with since October of 2019 when I bought my very first VR headset, the original Oculus Quest. At the time, I had bought the headset for one reason and one reason alone- “Beat Saber”. It’s a rhythm game where you use dual light sabers to slash at cubes as they fly towards you to the beat of a song. If you’ve never seen it before, check this out:

The girl in the video used mixed reality software to show herself playing the game, but you get the idea! My plan was to use this as a way to get myself to increase my physical activity. It seemed like a good motivational tool to inspire myself to move more, so I took the leap and spent the money on the headset even though I fully expected it to be a gimmick-y toy I might get bored with after a little while. With the vision issues I have due to my Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH), I wasn’t even sure if VR would be effective in my case. Still, I made the decision to gamble on VR, and I am so glad I did.

Happily, my ONH didn’t impede VR’s effectiveness. I was BLOWN AWAY by how realistic everything seemed. Aside from the admittedly uncomfortable weight of the headset on my face, I felt completely transported to new realms of reality. After getting my fill of Beat Saber, I explored other VR experiences, such as the deeply touching and well-made digital recreation of the Anne Frank house, complete with interactable objects with historical details, all narrated by talented voice actors. Then, of course, there were more lighthearted options such as Mission ISS, and the myriad sports games available in the Oculus store. At the time, options were much more limited than they are now, but I was overwhelmed by the immersive quality of VR right away.

Then, I discovered something which I hadn’t even considered when buying the headset- social VR. Programs where you can go and interact with other real people in virtual environments. AltspaceVR was my first experience with this concept. It’s a platform which allows you to attend an event, host your own, or just chat in any of its amazing social hubs and user-submitted worlds. When I first dove in, there were a wide variety of events available, from casual discussion groups to meetups for religious purposes. The first one I decided to check out was a weight loss support group. I popped in, saw the other avatars which represent real people elsewhere in the world in their own headsets, and listened to the conversation until I was asked to introduce myself and say hello! This might sound dramatic, but I mean it when I say this was my first step into a new life.

Social VR has completely changed my life for the better. As a spoonie who is stuck at home most of the time due to limitations imposed by my eyesight and frequently debilitating symptoms, I used to isolate a lot. It was hard to get out and socialize with others (even before this wretched pandemic struck). I’m VERY introverted, so I got by alright, but it still weighed negatively on my mental health from time to time. Loneliness rears its ugly head for everyone eventually. Now, with the discovery of social VR, I have easy access to a social hub any time I feel the need to hang out with people. Transporting myself to a virtual café is as easy as strapping into my headset and pressing a few buttons, and the immersive feel of the experience is enough to sate my hunger for socialization. I even host my own weekly support group for invisible illnesses / disabilities every Sunday at 7pm EST. It’s been going strong for about 10 months now, and the people who regularly attend the meetups feel like my extended virtual family. I look forward to our gathering each week, and I would love to invite you to join us as well, with or without a VR headset! As long as you have a computer, you can access it. I’ve got a page here with all the details.

After a year of satisfaction embedding myself in the tight-knit community of social VR enthusiasts, I decided to upgrade to the new Oculus Quest 2 headset, which is lighter, more advanced, and somehow cheaper than the original Quest. Since the release of the Quest 2, the amount of content available in the Oculus store has EXPLODED. New games and experiences are being released all the time, and with the now increased accessibility to VR for most consumers (thanks to the more affordable price point), new users are flooding into the once sparsely populated venues I’ve called home for the last year. I think this is WONDERFUL, and I am ecstatic to see the VR community flourishing.

With the increased interest in VR, it’s becoming more mainstream. Shortly after discovering its possibilities, I’ve been a vocal advocate for VR as a way for the chronically ill, disabled, or otherwise homebound to connect with others and enrich their lives from the comfort of their own homes. I’ve been a recurring guest on a podcast where I’ve been adamantly advocating for VR as a therapeutic outlet for spoonies everywhere, and I continue to push for awareness whenever I can.

There IS one downfall that I’ve noticed with VR. The majority VR games require movement, and I know that can really whittle away at spoons fast. Throughout my time in VR, I’ve explored as many experiences and games as I could get my virtual hands on, and I thought it might be useful for my fellow spoonies to have a reference guide of reviews for each of the games I’ve tried, complete with a rating of 1-5 spoons indicating how much energy a game takes to play.

Thus, SpoonieVR was born! Not only will there be reviews from a spoonie’s perspective, but information about whether or not the game offers accessibility features, such as “one-handed mode”, UI scaling for limited vision, whether or not you can play while sitting or lying down, etc.

Currently, this site is run only by Sunny Ammerman, a.k.a., InsomniaDoodles, but I hope to welcome other contributors to join me in this mission! If you’re interested in getting involved, please send us an email via the contact form below, or reach out via Twitter!

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