Since the launch of PlayStation VR2 back in February, I’ve played many of the headset’s launch window games, several of which I reviewed for this very site. The list includes heavy hitters such as Moss and Creed: Rise to Glory (pardon the pun), and even my highest-scored game ever in The Last Clockwinder – all are wonderful games. Fast forward to this week, when a free-to-play poker game called PokerStars VR released on Sony’s high-end VR rig and produced my most memorable experience thus far. In fact, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a game on PS VR2.
PokerStars is a straightforward experience; when you boot it up for the first time it gives you a brief crash course on how to navigate around the game world and then you can select a mode. If you’re worried about not understanding poker there are tutorials to help you with that as well. Apparently, poker isn’t the only game you can play, as slots and blackjack are allegedly part of the package, but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet. That’s because I was blindsided by fun immediately after joining my first virtual game of cards.
After picking an avatar, which is really just a floating head reminiscent of that old Goosebumps movie with all of the haunted masks, I joined a public lobby. The screen went black and then almost immediately I was sitting at a table with a handful of complete strangers all turning their virtual heads and looking at me in a fleeting moment of awkwardness. One stranger greeted me with a friendly “Hey, ‘New Guy’!” and the rest followed suit; soon after, the game spit a pair of cards at me and away I went.
The poker itself is good, the controls are intuitive, and everything just works; but that is not the real magic of PokerStars. You see, PokerStars taps into the true potential of virtual reality as a space to hang out with other humans (as far as you know) and interact with them in ways that traditional games simply can’t do. Within minutes of starting the game, I was cracking jokes with strangers until we were in tears, engaging in small talk, taking selfies, tossing alien plush toys around a poker table, and marveling at the creepiness that PS VR2’s eye tracking brings to VR poker. I was having fun playing poker, no doubt, but I was having way more fun playing poker in a virtual space with total strangers.
Video games have an odd way of bringing us together when you think about it. Of course, sometimes that brings out the absolute worst in people, but then there are experiences like mine – on a random Tuesday night, I laughed until I cried with people that I’ll never meet in real life while playing a card game on a hunk of plastic strapped to my head. That is the magic of virtual reality, and that is the magic of PokerStars.