Two major VR games have appeared recently. Though, I suppose calling them “games” isn’t exactly accurate. See, the sudden proliferation of virtual reality in our everyday lives has led to activities that are more like experiences. And, oddly enough, these are proving educational. Not in that Donkey Kong Jr. Math way, though that game was quite charming. Instead, they’re about offering practical life experiences. But can they replace actual life?
One of these games happens to be a title everyone’s joking around about. It is The Hard Way: A KFC Virtual Training Escape Room. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a virtual reality escape room acting as part of the training program for people at KFC. They learn to properly inspect, clean, bread, rack, and fry the Colonel Sander’s recipe in a horrifying room filled with ominous sights and an all-seeing and intimidating Colonel. The only way they escape is by going through the correct motions and presenting the master with a perfectly finished product.
Now, as goofy and silly as this is, I don’t see it being very useful. I mean, real chicken looks nothing like the chicken in the KFC escape room game. And the program is being used as a complement to actual instruction. But everything about this program screams “gimmick.” Even though the instructions are practical, they’re being presented by an omnipresent figure making jokes and trying way too hard to be intimidating. It seems like something more to lure people into the training program and make things more appealing. While some practical lessons will be applied, I wonder how effective it will be and if people will take it seriously.
On the other hand, the other virtual reality sensation is Comedy Night. This $5 game just launched on Steam and is a stand-up comedy simulator. People put on their headsets and either watch from the audience, cheering or heckling performers, or get on stage and perform an act. It is designed to give people who might not otherwise have the courage or opportunity to get to an actual comedy club to get on stage and try their stuff.
While the KFC Escape Room seems like a dud to me, Comedy Night sounds like an actually practical and helpful program. I mean think about it. Going on stage is terrifying. Especially if you’re just starting out as a comic. You want a chance to test new material. Why not go through a virtual program and see how it goes? If things tank, a small number of internet strangers you will never see again are the only ones who witnessed your demise. You can then become a spectator and watch and learn from others. If it goes well, then maybe you get the motivation to actually appear at a real open-mic night. And at $5, there’s no reason not to give it a chance. There’s no need to worry about realism, because the visuals are there to just give context to the actual activity: stand-up comedy.
It seems like whether or not a VR game could be educational is something we’ll have to investigate on a case by case basis. The Hard Way: A KFC Virtual Training Escape Room feels like a gimmick. Even though it is teaching people helpful steps to making chicken, it is doing it in a way that is difficult to take seriously. Meanwhile, Comedy Night is presenting us with something that looks goofy, but could actually help people learn to become comedians by watching others perform, then trying their own acts out on a virtual stage. Perhaps as time goes by, we’ll see these offering replicas of real life experiences that can help us all.