clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

When virtual reality copies real-world games, the fun is in the familiarity

Some of the most interesting apps for the HTC Vive right now impress because they feel real.

Steam / Pierhead Arcade

I don’t make time to play ping-pong with friends. I’ve never shot a paintball gun. And I rarely if ever play arcade games any more.

And yet, I’ve also done all of those things in the past couple days.

As an early adopter of a high-end virtual reality device called the HTC Vive, I’ve tried plenty of weird, video game-y software that lets you battle your music library or wield a lightsaber or shoot lasers at flying robots. But the more I plumb the depths of Vive software, most of which can be found on the PC gaming store Steam, the more I’m finding fun in games and apps that just do one thing well: Mimic the real world.

Three of the 50 best-reviewed Vive games right now are VR adaptations of ping-pong. In my favorite, Ping Pong Waves VR, you use one of the Vive’s handheld controllers to pick up a ball and the other to swing a paddle. Currently, you can only play against a computer, but the developer is working on online multiplayer to let two Vive owners play against each other.

Steam / Ping Pong Waves VR

As with all things VR-related, it’s difficult to convey this to someone who has never tried a fancy VR system. But delicately angling this fake ping-pong paddle to connect with the fake ball and knocking it just out of your fake opponent’s reach sends all the right, real chemicals to your brain. It really feels like “Yes, I am playing ping-pong and I just scored a point” — something other video games, going all the way back to Atari’s Pong in 1972, just couldn’t accomplish.

Another highly rated Steam game is Rec Room, a free “virtual reality social club” that lets you create an avatar, talk to other players and play games with them. The seemingly most popular feature of Rec Room right now is an impressive paintball game; players use one or both of the Vive’s controllers to shoot paint at players on the other team in a fast-paced game of Capture the Flag.

For the record, I was abysmal at paintball CTF. But I had fun!

Steam / Rec Room

The list of games that follow this pattern goes on and on: Pool Nation VR lets you play pool, darts, skee-ball and air hockey; Tabletop Simulator (which, full disclosure, I haven’t tried yet) advertises re-creations of 15 games, including “chess, poker, jigsaw puzzles, dominoes, and mahjong”; and a peaceful free app called Destinations lets you virtually walk around re-creations of places like a quiet English church or the surface of Mars.

My new guilty pleasure, though, is a game called Pierhead Arcade. For $10, you get surprisingly precise virtual versions of all those crappy boardwalk games like whack-a-mole, a basketball free-throw shooter and a boxing game.

There are also claw machines. So far, I’ve won three different types of teddy bears. And no, I’m not going to tell you how much time I spent doing that.

What’s remarkable about all of these games is that they would not be at all impressive without both the virtual reality headset and the motion controllers, which only the Vive has right now. But that will change: Facebook is releasing its own motion controllers for the Oculus Rift sometime this year; Sony will sell controllers for its PlayStation VR headset, due out in October; and for its sophomore virtual reality effort Daydream, Google is planning a sensor-packed controller as well.

In other words, expect a lot more stories like this one as VR developers continue to explore what the tech can do. In the meantime, I’ll be over here at the claw machine.

This article originally appeared on