Introducing the SpoonieVR Podcast!

This is the introductory episode for the new SpoonieVR podcast!

You can also listen to this on YouTube with CC here: youtu.be/8T7zYznjPJM

“Spoon Theory”: butyoudontlooksick.com/category/the-spoon-theory/
SpoonieVR blog: spoonievr.com/
SpoonieVR Twitter: twitter.com/SpoonieVR
My blog: insomniadoodles.com/
Mikey Geiger on Spotify: open.spotify.com/artist/4v8uHQhTE…SxQhGGT249XjCoXQ

This podcast is also available on Spotify: open.spotify.com/show/4z3IELbOA5K9obd0FxONOi

Hello and welcome to the SpoonieVR podcast!

From increasing physical activity to alleviating social isolation, Virtual Reality can truly be a therapeutic tool for the chronically ill, disabled, or anyone who finds themselves homebound for any number of reasons. My name is Sunny, but my handle pretty much everywhere online and in VR is InsomniaDoodles, and I am the creator of the SpoonieVR blog, which features and reviews Virtual Reality games, experiences, and services from a spoonie’s perspective.

If you aren’t already familiar with the term “Spoonie”, let me enlighten you with the cliffsnotes version of where that comes from. The concept of spoons as a symbol for energy was first introduced by Christine Miserandino on butyoudontlooksick.com. She was trying to explain to her friend what it is like to live with limited energy due to her chronic illness, Lupus. Needing some kind of tangible symbol, she grabbed a handful of spoons and said “this is your energy”. You wake up each day with a random number of spoons. You might wake up and find you have five spoons, or ten. Some days, you may wake up with no spoons at all. Simply getting out of bed can take a spoon. Other tasks might take two spoons or more. Even doing things you enjoy cost spoons. At some point, you’re going to completely run out of spoons, so you have to make choices about what you’re able to do before you run out, such as deciding whether to use your energy to do the dishes, or get some exercise, something most healthy people never even have to consider. This concept was dubbed “Spoon Theory” and  became very popular among the chronic illness, neurodivergent, and disability communities, and many folks within those communities refer to themselves as “spoonies”.

Now that you’re in the loop about the whole spoonie thing, I can introduce you to this podcast idea I’ve got. I am first and foremost a patient advocate and activist for folks living with rare diseases, chronic illness, and invisible disabilities, but I discovered a passion for VR in October of 2018, when I got my very first VR headset, a standalone device known as the Oculus Quest. I wasn’t entirely sure if VR would work for me, considering my low vision issues, which I’ll explain more here in a moment, but I had been watching a bunch of videos showing the game Beat Saber, and I just HAD to try it for myself. I convinced myself this would be an investment in my physical health, because Beat Saber looked like it could be quite the workout, and hey- even sick people need to exercise when we can. So, I bought the headset, and was absolutely blown away by how truly incredible VR was. Luckily, my vision issues didn’t severely impact my ability to play Beat Saber, and I was immediately hooked. I decided to see what else VR had to offer, and I discovered something I had never even considered up until that point- social VR. This revelation truly changed my life. My low vision issues and other health problems cause me to be homebound quite frequently, so my social life is fairly limited. Now, with social VR applications and games that incorporate social features in multiplayer, I can hang out with friends and have an awesome time from the comfort of my own home, or bed. Virtual Reality has alleviated the social isolation I had been struggling with for so long, and as someone who has a compromised immune system, I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how much this has helped me through the pandemic.

I really, genuinely think virtual reality can be a crucial tool for anyone who finds themselves homebound for whatever reason, but my main focus when I created SpoonieVR.com was to support accessibility in VR for folks living with whatever unique limitations they might have. In my case, I was born with a rare birth defect called “Septo-Optic Dysplasia”. That caused Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, which caused me to be blind in both peripherals and have low vision overall, and Panhypopituitarism, which is a pituitary disorder that can cause debilitating symptoms which severely limit what I am able to do when they arise. I could record an entire podcast episode just explaining the complicated details of my diagnoses, but I’m not going to get into that here. If you want to learn more about that, you can check out my blog, insomniadoodles.com, where I’ve explained it in detail. Long story short, I frequently find myself low on spoons, and my low vision issues give me a firsthand appreciation for the necessity of accessibility tools. 

For this podcast, my intentions are to have candid conversational interviews with developers of VR games, experiences, and services in the context of what those developers are doing to improve accessibility in their content or otherwise benefit folks within the Spoonie community through services such as mental health and physical therapy or experiences which aim to raise awareness. We’ll discuss some of the behind the scenes efforts these developers are making to bring you their content, and what they can do to make them even better. My individual limitations are not nearly as severe as many of the folks I advocate for, but I will do my absolute best to bring to these developers’ attention the need for accessibility tools their content may be lacking. 

Though I try my best to educate myself as much as possible, I am not an expert in the field of disabilities or accessibility in general, so my knowledge of the needs everybody else may have is pretty limited. In order to give folks a chance to share what tools they need developers to include to make their content accessible for their unique individual needs, I’ll make a post on Twitter @SpoonieVR sharing who I’ve got lined up for an interview ahead of time and give you a chance to ask questions and offer your input, which I’ll share with my guests on the show.

I want to offer you insight into what developers are doing and introduce you to new tools you might not otherwise know about, and I’ll let you know via social media and the SpoonieVR blog when new episodes become available, but please understand that I am a Spoonie myself, and I’ve got to put my health first so that I can keep doing the advocacy work I love, so there may be long stretches of time between new episodes. Producing a podcast takes a LOT more effort than you might think, so I’ll have to pace myself and I hope you’ll be patient with me.

If you’re a VR developer and would like to share what you’re doing on the show, please feel free to reach out via email at spoonievr@gmail.com. If anyone listening wants to give feedback or recommend suggestions, or if you just want to say hi, please feel free to send me an email or reach out on social media! I would love to hear from you! You can find all my social media and other important links in the description of this episode.

Oh, before I end this episode, I want to let you know about a peer support group I run. It’s called “VR Spoonies” and we meet every Sunday at 7pm EST on AltspaceVR. We’ve been meeting every week for almost two years now, and the community that has grown around this group has become a really wonderful close-knit family of people who truly understand what it’s like to have to count your spoons. This group started in VR, but we also have a discord and facebook group you can join. You can find all the details by visiting spoonievr.com/support.

Thanks so much for listening to this introductory episode of the SpoonieVR podcast! Shoutout to Mikey Gieger for his song “Inspired Iguana”, which is the intro and outro for this program. You can find him on Spotify. Check him out, good stuff.

Until next time, take care and I’m sending spoons your way!

Stereo to Mono Audio Override: An Open Letter for Accessibility

Dear VR Developers,

Virtual Reality has opened new doors for folks living with disabilities and health conditions which restrict their ability to venture out of their homes. I frequently find myself homebound due to complications from my conditions, and before I discovered social VR, I was pretty lonely and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. These days, I can escape the lonesome monotony by strapping my Quest 2 to my face and diving into a wide variety of VR experiences and games that have robust social features which allow me to “get out” and interact with others from the comfort of my own home.

As amazing as this technology is already, VR is still in its infancy. Despite its exponential growth in recent years, VR is still lagging a bit behind in terms of accessibility features for users experiencing barriers caused by their unique circumstances. I want to do my part to help fix that, so I’ve been reaching out to the many other VR users also living with disabilities so we can network and address these shortcomings.

One issue I would like to spotlight in this letter is accessibility for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. I recently published a similar article, but this letter is intended to ask developers to address a specific issue I’ve recently been asked about by a member of the weekly support group meetup I facilitate on Altspace. She mentioned that her husband is deaf in one ear, and directional audio used in VR experiences poses a frustrating issue for him. If someone stands on his deaf side and speaks to him, he can not hear what they are saying because their voice only carries through the speaker on that side.

I brought this issue to discussion in a virtual reality group I’m in on Facebook, and the VR community did not let me down! Some awesome users shared this useful info. There is a stereo to mono adapter you can use which forces stereo sound into mono for any headset which uses a standard aux cord, which should fix the directional audio issue. For PCVR users or folks using Oculus Link / Air Link, Windows 10 also has an accessibility feature which allows you to force mono audio on your system, which should override directional audio in any program.

These features are great, and the existence of the accessibility feature that allows you to force mono audio across all programs on your Windows 10 device tells me it would be possible for hardware developers like Oculus to make this a native accessibility feature on their devices as well, overriding audio settings in all VR applications so we don’t have to rely on individual developers to include this as an accessibility feature in their experiences. Of course, this feature wouldn’t be ideal for most users as directional audio is pretty important for many VR experiences, but for folks who are deaf on one side, this would be so helpful, especially in social VR experiences.

I’m writing this letter in hopes that it might reach someone in an influential position within a VR company who can put this request into action. Let’s work on making VR accessible to all! This is just one more small step we can take in that direction.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you are someone living with a unique limitation which impacts your ability to fully enjoy VR, please reach out and tell me how you think VR developers and allies can help improve accessibility! I would love to do anything I can to help.

-Sunny

✌♥🥄

Cover Photo by Eren Li from Pexels

Real VR Fishing Review

Spoons:
Accessibility:
Community:
Replayability:
Immersion:

(2)
★★★★☆ (4)
★★★★★ (5)
★★★★☆ (4)
★★★★★ (5)

“Spoons” represent how energy-intensive a game is based on my experience. It does not reflect my personal opinion about the game or its quality. You can read more about my “spoons” and other ratings considerations here.

Real VR Fishing was one of the first games I bought when I started on my VR journey, and easily the game that I recommend the most (besides Beat Saber). The photorealistic graphics showcase just how incredible VR technology has become. No matter how many hours I have logged in this game, I am still in awe of how detailed everything is. I’ll stop fishing just to look down at the texture on my gloves or watch a perfectly animated flock of birds dance in the sky overhead. Then, my controller vibrates sharply alerting me of a bite on the line, and my focus is snapped back to the task at hand!

Stunning graphics aside, the gameplay itself is fantastic. I grew up with a fishing pond in my front yard, so I know a thing or two about fishing in real life. This game does an excellent job of simulating the experience in VR.

There are three different difficulty settings; normal, hard, and expert, with each difficulty mode offering a slightly different fishing experience. “Normal” mode has excellent tools for beginners, showing you exactly where the fish are in the water and includes a visual aid to assist in reeling in the catch. Expert mode is the most realistic of the three, and you earn more experience points for fishing in this mode.

Fishing is a great way to unwind, and this game offers even more features to add to the relaxation, such as an in-game MP3 player that allows you to import and play your own music, and a web browser that you can use to bring just about any website to your fishing experience. One of my favorite things to do is relax on the ocean shore, casting lines while bingeing TV shows on Hulu, watching my friends stream on Twitch, and catching up on YouTube videos.

The gameplay and graphics are excellent, but the social features deserve high praise as well! You can create or join a multiplayer room with up to four players, with the option to make your room private by requiring a password. I always have a good time entering into a random public room and chatting with whoever is there. It’s a great way to socialize, fighting that isolation some of us spoonies know all too well, and I’ve even made some lasting friendships this way! While you’re bound to encounter a kid here and there in any multiplayer VR experience, the game’s largest demographic seems to be retirees and folks with disabilities, like myself. Everyone I have encountered has been wonderful and accepting. This game seems to attract the best of the VR community!

The video in this “tweet” includes my smart-ass IRL friends.

There are also leaderboards and monthly “fishing seasons” to encourage friendly competition between players with unique prizes rewarded to the top 10 players in each category at the end of the season in the form of medals displayed in your personal lodge and cosmetic items, like unique styles of fishing gloves!

The Ratings

Spoons:

This is a very relaxing game, but it does require enough movement that I had to give this at least two spoons. Depending on how you choose to play this game, it could be more taxing. The developers were kind enough to include a one-handed feature, so you do not have to make the “reeling in” motion with your other hand. I decided to rate this as two spoons based on one-handed mode. I normally play with both controllers, and I would consider that to be about three spoons instead considering the fast and repetitive circular movement.

Even if you don’t necessarily have enough “spoons” to fish at all, it’s still nice to launch the game just to unwind at the shore and watch some TV by yourself surrounded by the relaxing scenes and sounds of nature, or chill and chat with folks in a multiplayer room.

Accessibility: ★★★☆☆

The developers put a lot of thought into making their game as accessible as possible. You can easily play while seated, as there is a height adjustment option in the game’s settings. As I mentioned before, there is also a one-handed mode that allows you to enjoy the game with just one controller. This is a great addition for folks who can only play one-handed or anyone who would be worn out too easily by the repetitive circular motion that would otherwise be required to reel in the line. In one-handed mode, you still have to flick your wrist to yank the line to “snap” the fish that jump, but other than that, movement is fairly minimal. You just have to press the trigger button to reel in the line.

This game’s accessibility could be improved by including automated speech recognition (ASR) to display captioning in multiplayer rooms so that users who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing can also participate in the social aspects of the game. As always, I am eager to advocate for the ability to play all VR games while lying flat on your back so folks who are severely bed bound can join us in VR. You CAN play this game while seated and even leaning back a fair amount, but you can not effectively play this while lying horizontally, though I suppose lying on the beach and looking up at the sky is still pretty nice in this game! I have done that once or twice, myself.

Community: ★★★★★

Considering the awesome multiplayer function and the friendly competition awarded by the leaderboards, this game deserves no less than all five stars in this category. This game has a robust community full of enthusiastic anglers who just love to cast lines and chat with strangers and friends alike. There is also a very active Facebook group created by the developers for their players to share experiences and connect with one another outside of the game. It is genuinely one of the best VR communities I have found, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.

Replayability: ★★★★☆

I almost rated replayability at five stars, but at this moment it really has only earned four stars until they release more maps and content for players to unlock. The new maps have been announced and are on the way, but currently the unlockable content is very limited. Despite that, the competition in the leaderboards each month still earns this game high marks in this category! The dev team is great about staying in contact with the player base, which helps a lot with keeping the community engaged and excited about upcoming additions.

Immersion: ★★★★★

Five stars. Easy. Have you SEEN those graphics? I don’t feel like this even needs an explanation, but I’ll do my best to elaborate anyway. The photorealistic environments are stunning at each and every fishing location in the game. The attention to detail the artists have included are truly beautiful. Every map has something unique to offer, from rain that ripples the surface of the water so realistically you can almost smell it, to the wildlife that you can sometimes find passing by in the water or overhead. There are random events that come and go as well, such as fireworks, cherry blossoms gently blowing in the breeze, or a double rainbow! Even the textures on your fishing gear are a beautiful sight to behold. The sound composition is absolutely fantastic as well. Just well done overall. Kudos to the developers for making such a beautiful escape from reality!

I will be recording a narration of this article as soon as I get the chance to do so! Hopefully by Monday. Thanks for your patience!

Horizon Worlds Lacks Accessibility for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing

I came across this open letter to the Horizon Worlds team and offered to give it a signal boost here to hopefully give this request more traction. The original post was composed by Myles de Bastion and can be found here.

Dear Horizon Team,

We URGENTLY require Communications Accessibility.

This is an open letter to please add live automated speech recognition (ASR) to display captioning in Horizon. The technology exists but I am seeing comments that it is just not considered a high priority for the full release of this app. Can we petition to change this?

I am Deaf and I’ve had fun seeing and testing the community created tools & worlds made to help those who don’t hear or speak, have some limited means to communicate. Yet this work further amplifies that there is need for a formal solution to be implemented directly by the Horizon team. Otherwise we are facing a growing disparity gap in the fact that those with disabilities are falling behind in representation and having the skills to build their own cultural experiences in Horizon.

Live captioning doesn’t only benefit those who do not hear but it opens the doors for multilingual translation of captions so that people can read captions and even reply in their native language. This would truly benefit the whole community and help achieve the goal of inclusion and diversity. Facebook Horizon WILL fall short without live captioning and translation features being implemented NOW during the beta instead of waiting months and years after launch to add it which will only continue to perpetuate oppression and exclusion behaviors.

Please elevate this message by commenting, liking and sharing. Thank you for your time.

Signed,
Myles de Bastion (DeafMyles)

SpoonieVR wholeheartedly stands behind this request in full support. I will also be suggesting the implementation of ASR in other VR games whose dev team I am in communication with. This can and absolutely should be done.
Unfortunately, the Horizon team has said publicly that they have no plans to implement this function, despite having seen this letter. It is my hope that more people will see this request and make their support for it known so that the Horizon team will change their minds and see this as the priority that it is, rather than an unnecessary luxury.

Myles de Bastion is an Artistic Director, Musician and Creative-altruist who develops technology and art installations that enables sound to be experienced as light and vibration.

He is a UX designer and part of the XR Access Immersive captioning working group. You can learn about his work on the topic of captioning and sign language here.

Tetris Effect Review

Spoons:
Accessibility:
Community:
Replayability:
Immersion:

(1)
★★★☆☆ (3)
★★★★☆ (4)
★★★★★ (5)
★★★★★ (5)

“Spoons” represent how energy-intensive a game is based on my experience. It does not reflect my personal opinion about the game or its quality. You can read more about my “spoons” and other ratings considerations here.

I recorded a narration of this article for your convenience, which you can find at the bottom of this page.

When I finally hit the “buy” button, my initial thought was “Did I really just drop $30 on a Tetris reboot?” I’ll admit I fully expected to have buyer’s remorse, but when I put on my VR headset and launched the game, I was blown away.

Tetris Effect is an artfully crafted audio-visual experience with the classic game “Tetris” as its core. In Tetris Effect, you are taken on a journey of sound and immersive animated environments while you puzzle out the best way to fit the falling shapes called “Tetriminos” into one another to fill as many spaces on the grid as possible in order to completely fill lines horizontally, thus causing the filled lines to disappear and awarding you with points for your clever success! Clear four lines simultaneously to achieve a “Tetris” for an extra bonus!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’re familiar with the original Tetris. It’s one of the most popular games in existence, and for good reason! It’s a masterpiece. An absolutely perfect creation. Tetris Effect takes this masterpiece, and by some miracle of ingenuity and artistry, makes it better. Paired with a beautiful original soundtrack by the band Hydelic, the game actually shifts and flows along with the rhythm and mood of each song, and vice-versa. As you clear lines and rack up points, the music shifts and the environment also changes in beautiful, sometimes subtle, sometimes breathtakingly drastic ways, increasing or decreasing in speed and intensity as you play. Even the controllers pulse along with the music to add another level of immersion.

As you play, you enter what’s known as a “state of flow”. Wikipedia defines “Flow” as a state of mind in which you are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of an activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time. The main campaign, “Journey Mode” stitches each level together in a progression which does not disrupt your flow state, allowing you to keep up your enhanced senses and reaction time as you continue to play.

Tetris Effect developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi shared during Facebook Connect 2020 that he specifically wanted to induce a state of flow when playing Tetris Effect, and this was a major goal in the game’s creation. I can tell you from my own experience that he was VERY successful in inducing this state. After only a short time playing, I find myself easily drifting into the flow state, and before I know it, an hour has passed! It’s a wise idea to set an alarm before settling in for a Tetris Effect session for this very reason.

Being in that state of flow has similar effects as meditation on my mood, and is so refreshing at times that I considered giving this game a zero spoons rating, but considering the mental energy required to solve the often fast-paced puzzle, I decided to settle on a rating of one spoon just to be fair.

Aside from the main campaign, there are numerous minigames and alternate game modes available under the “Effect Modes” menu category, all of which have unique goals and challenges for the player to complete.

The Ratings

Spoons:

Like I said earlier in the article, I considered giving this game a cost of zero spoons due to the refreshing effect the state of flow it induces occasionally has on me. This game does take some mental stamina to play, however, so it wouldn’t have been entirely accurate if I didn’t give it at least one spoon. Some of the more difficult levels can be pretty taxing mentally, but the gameplay itself requites only finger movement and you can play while seated, so it’s not physically demanding in the slightest. The main campaign, “Journey Mode”, has many different difficulty options to choose from, from Practice Mode, which is as easy as it gets, to Expert mode, which I am currently busting my Tetriminos to complete!

When playing Journey Mode, you can exit the game at any time between levels and your progression will be saved, so there is no risk of having to spend spoons you don’t have just to push yourself through to the next available save point (a common issue I’ve experienced in many other video games). Tetris Effect is a spoonie’s dream come true. I frequently strap myself in to play when I’m having a flare-up, because it helps time pass by more quickly, and the state of flow is an excellent escape from my symptomatic body.

Accessibility: ★★★☆☆

Tetris Effect can be played while seated, but it’s not really possible to play while leaning far back or lying down. The game requires tracking to be on, so the environment around you is always in the same fixed position (if you hold down the oculus button to reposition, it only adjusts the horizontal direction in which you are facing, not the vertical angle). I think the developers could disable tracking and allow the game to be played while laying down fairly easily, but that option is currently not available. There are plenty of options to customize controls, so it’s technically possible to play one-handed, but you’ll have to sacrifice some less important camera controls and menu buttons in order to do this, so some folks might find it inadequate for their needs. Because of these minor shortcomings, I give Tetris Effect an accessibility rating of three out of five stars.

Additional notes: I have visual impairments caused by Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, so my FOV is limited way more than most people. Occasionally, I find it difficult to focus on the falling Tetriminos while also being able to look at the area that shows which shape is coming next. Despite this difficulty, I have still been able to get some pretty impressive scores, if I do say so myself. I want to stress that this is NOT a fault of the game at all, but I thought it would be illuminating to share how my own personal vision issues have impacted my gameplay in case anyone reading this article has similar issues.

Community ★★★★☆

This review is for Tetris Effect, not Tetris Effect: Connected, which just launched for consoles and will be available as a free update for all Oculus users who own Tetris Effect in 2021. I will update this review once the update launches and I get the chance to play it. In Effect Mode, you can see when other people are also playing, and while there is no way to directly communicate with one another, I feel like there is a comforting sense of community when I see their avatars orbiting the globe alongside my own. Furthermore, the game developers host something called the “Weekend Ritual” every Saturday where anyone who plays the specified event levels in Effect Mode during the ritual contributes to a global score to reach a goal that unlocks a rare avatar for all participants. This definitely contributes to a shared sense of community. There are also many different leaderboards within Tetris Effect that encourage competition between players. The developers of the game, Enhance, also keep an active social media presence where they are pretty good about responding to and encouraging people who post about their games.

Replayability: ★★★★★

The developers obviously put a lot of effort into making sure there are hours and hours of the main campaign to complete over the course of multiple difficulty levels. Beyond the main campaign, there are many challenging mini-games in the Effect Modes category, and the leaderboards also encourage players to return and compete for the best scores. The “Weekend Ritual” also appears in the Oculus Events menu each week, which reminds me to come back to the game each weekend to help the community reach its goal. There are also many achievements that you can unlock while playing. All of these features combined has definitely earned Tetris Effect a 5 star replayability rating.

Immersion: ★★★★★

I would give this infinite stars if I could. This game is BEAUTIFUL. The game, music, controller vibration effects, and constantly shifting environments combine to draw you in and send you into a state of flow that passes time in a truly incredible way. I’ve joked that Tetris Effect is actually a time machine, because it is so immersive that it’s easy to lose track of time and suddenly realize an hour has passed. I really can not stress enough how magical this game’s level of immersion is. Excellent work, dev team!

Spoons and Ratings Criteria

“Spoons” are a term frequently used by those in the chronic illness, disability, and neurodivergent communities to describe the limited energy or physical and mental stamina we may or may not have on any given day. Often times, people will refer to themselves as “Spoonies” as well. These monikers originated from something known as “The Spoon Theory”, which you can read here.

On this site, I begin by giving each game and experience I review a “spoons” rating, which expresses how many spoons I think a Virtual Reality (VR) experience may cost. The more spoons there are in a rating, the more energy-intensive the experience is. I take the following considerations into account when issuing spoons:

  • How much do you have to move in order to play?
  • How much control, if any, do you have over the game’s intensity?
  • How intense are the required movements overall?
  • Are there calm moments where you can rest in between action sequences?
  • Are you required to stay standing, or can you sit down?
  • How long does it take to complete a level or get to a good stopping point?
  • How physically draining is the experience?
  • How mentally draining is the experience?

It’s important to keep in mind that the number of spoons I give in a review is relative to my own experience, which may differ from yours. The spoonie community is extremely diverse. What I consider to be two spoons might cost another person four, and yet another person only one.

To give you a good basis for comparison between my spoons and yours, I would give each of the activities listed on the right the following spoon ratings. Please adjust each according to your personal level of spoons and keep that adjustment in mind while reading my reviews. Also please keep in mind that my “spoons” are mostly related to weakness, fatigue, and other symptoms caused by my endocrine disorder. I do not live with chronic pain.

A leisurely walk:
A fast walk:
Riding a bicycle:
Running:
Climbing stairs:
Aerobic exercise:
Yoga:
Writing an article:
Folding laundry:
1hr Zoom call:
30 min. shopping:
Cook a big meal:

(2)
(4)
(3)
(5)
(3)
(5)
(2)
(1)
(1)
(2)
(3)
(3)

Each of my reviews also include ratings on a scale from 1-5 stars for accessibility, community, replayability, and immersion. To the right is a key showing what I consider each rating to mean.

exceptional:
above average:
average:
fair:
poor:
N/A:

★★★★★ (5)
★★★★☆ (4)
★★★☆☆ (3)
★★☆☆☆ (2)
★☆☆☆☆ (1)
☆☆☆☆☆ (0)

I calculate these ratings based on a number of different considerations for each category. I try my best to be as consistent as possible, taking into account the judgements I have made on pervious games and experiences when taking on a new review.

Accessibility:
I consider this to be the most important part of my reviews. I want VR to be accessible to ALL people, regardless of mobility and other potential restrictions. I am privileged to not have any physical limitations myself, so I aim to use that privilege to test these games and experiences so folks who need certain accessibility accommodations can get some sort of idea of whether or not they will be able to enjoy them. Pointing out accessibility shortcomings in VR experiences also has the added bonus of encouraging developers to take this aspect more into consideration as they create new content.

When issuing my accessibility rating, I take the following considerations into account:

  • Can you play it while sitting down?
  • Can you play it while lying down?
  • Is there an option to play one-handed?
  • Is there UI scaling or other low vision support?

Experiences will only be granted an accessibility rating of 5 stars if the experience can be enjoyed with only one controller while the user is lying horizontally. So far, very few VR experiences fit this criteria, and none of them are interactive games. I would like to see this change in the future.

Community:
This review category is important because many spoonies experience social isolation as a result of their debilitating and often inconsistent symptoms. While VR may not be able to fully replace the need for in-person social interactions, it certainly alleviates some of the loneliness and isolation associated with homebound life. Connecting with others (even complete strangers) in VR has greatly improved my quality of life. Even in certain VR experiences where there are multiplayer options that do not include direct communication between players, the feeling of community is palpable and comforting.

When issuing my community rating, I take the following considerations into account:

  • Is there a multiplayer option?
  • If so, is there voice chat or other direct communication between players?
  • Are there leaderboards which encourage competition?
  • Is there a strong community outside of VR, such as active and engaging social media pages or a Discord server?

Replayability:

  • Once you beat the main campaign (if there is one) is there a reason to return?
  • Are there mini-games/ challenges?
  • Is it a roguelike (procedurally generated for a unique, new playthrough each time)?
  • Leaderboards also factor into this rating, as they encourage players to compete.

Immersion:

  • How much does the game draw you in?
  • What are the quality of the graphics?
  • Are there glitches? If so, how frequent are they?

These are all based on my personal experience, which of course may differ from yours. My reviews, like all reviews, should be taken with a grain of salt and consideration that this is a point of OPINION, not hard facts. If you disagree with my reviews for any reason, I highly encourage polite discourse in the comments section expressing your take on the VR experience in question. A diverse forum of different opinions is important for folks who want to learn about what is being reviewed so they can make their own educated decisions.

Thank you for taking the time to read about how I’ll be writing reviews on this site! I’m hoping to have my first review finished and published here soon. Please consider following this blog, or follow the SpoonieVR Twitter account to be notified when this and other articles go live.

How many spoons do those everyday tasks I listed in this article cost for you? Leave a reply below and share your spoons ratings! It’s really insightful to see how everyone’s conditions affect them individually!

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!