I recently set up an Oculus Rift headset in my living room and have been inviting friends and family over to experience virtual reality for the first time. It’s exhilarating to watch people react with joy (and sometimes disappointment) to virtual spaces I’ve struggled to describe to them.
That feeling quickly gives way to an awkward waiting period. With high-quality headsets hovering around $600, not many people are investing in a second headset. That waiting period ended when I discovered Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a game from Steel Crate Games.
It has a simple premise: the person wearing the VR headset can see a bomb covered in different modules. Each module is a puzzle that can only be solved with the manual held by the people not wearing the headset, but they can’t see the bomb. The person wearing the headset describes each puzzle and then follows instructions from the people with the manual. Oculus hasn’t yet shipped its Touch controllers, which allow you to move your hands through the air in a more natural way, so right now you manipulate the bomb with an Xbox controller.
It’s fast-paced and hilarious. My palms sweat every time I’m inside the headset describing the color of wires and the shape of strange symbols. Mess up too many times, or wait too long, and the bomb explodes.
The game’s creators were inspired to make the game at a hackathon, where so few people wanted to try their early-edition VR headset that they ended up setting up a demo station. The act of walking someone through how to use a VR headset actually feels a lot like the game: explaining how to do something physical to someone who can’t actually see you. They were also inspired by an episode of Archer where the characters are defusing a bomb on a blimp with directions sent over radio.
It’s called an asymmetric multiplayer game, and the genre has been around longer than virtual reality. Developer Brian Fetter thinks more games will pop up in the genre but that it’s not necessarily the answer to VR’s sometimes isolating effect. He would rather see more headsets in more houses, since he believes putting people across the world in the same room is the more significant power of VR.
“We were always asked about VR being an antisocial technology,” Fetter says. “But I’ve actually seen it to be the opposite. I think it adds far more social capabilities than most multiplayer games do today. There’s a sense of another person that you don’t get when you’re just doing voice communication.”
But we’ll always need party games. While Super Smash Bros. might have a nostalgic draw, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes exploits the hilarity of isolating someone who is right in the room with you. Just don’t blame me when your friends get addicted and won’t leave your house.