My Kids’ 10 Favorite VR Apps of the Summer At-Home

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This week the NYT published a great op-ed about how digital three-dimensional environments are where much of life is taking place during the pandemic. 

“During the lockdowns, gaming platforms have been thriving as venues for all manner of events. Savvy teachers are holding online classes where their students are already spending their time: on game-focused sites like Twitch and Discord. People have held beach weddings inside Animal Crossing and concerts inside Fortnite. Students at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and other universities built 3-D replicas of their school settings inside Minecraft, and some held graduation celebrations there.” 

At our home, my kids have been living inside of Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox all summer. These are interactive, connective, and FUN places for our kids to play with their friends while they can’t play together. 

We also have been adding to our collection of Oculus Quest VR games for when it’s more fun to transport yourself someplace new. 

So I asked them what they would recommend for you, and they put together this list…

Our Top 10 VR Apps of the Summer At-Home, as ranked by my kids: 

  • Puppet Fever: this is like charades, with VR puppets, and you can use an iPad to see the other player putting on the performance. So much fun. 
  • Job Simulator: when your kids want to spend their free time staffing the counter at a gas station. Scenes from this have been shared widely on TikTok, so your kids will probably know exactly what to do.
  • Bait: this is a super fun and relaxing fishing game that after you beat it, you can keep fishing to just chill out (and collect one of every fish)!
  • Bogo: if petting and feeding a cute virtual animals sounds fun, it is! (Note: better for younger kids)
  • Tilt Brush: a gorgeous 3D painting app from Google that truly redefines the genre of art through VR. If your kids get good enough at this, companies like mine will pay them to do live performance art in this app. Seriously. 
  • Space Pirate Trainer: if you like shooting robot droids, this is pretty fun. Don’t forget your shield! (Note: better for older kids!)
  • Pistol Whip: a shooting game set to music that requires you to dodge, bob and weave. This game makes my kids sore! (Note: better for older kids due to violence!)
  • Beat Saber: this rhythm game has you slash targets to the beat. It’s like Star Wars meets Guitar Hero. 
  • Cave Digger: this is a long-form mining adventure game set in the Wild West with quests, and tools, and trains. Very complex for your kids as they get more familiar with VR.
  • YouTube VR: it seems like a pretty straightforward recommendation to watch YouTube videos in VR, but there’s something special about your own personal movie theater watching vids. The kids love it.

You’ll see there aren’t any fear-based games on this list, including those that use heights or jump-scares to frighten users. Those kinds of apps are highly inappropriate for all but the most experienced VR users, and certainly for children, whose brains can’t always differentiate between real and fake in virtual spaces. Practice VR safely with your family, and monitor and moderate its use just like you would with any other technology. 

As always, read the reviews, check the ratings, and play the game before you let your kids use these. Every family has their own expectations and experiences, and VR is no joke. 

What are the favorite online or VR games to play at your home? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear how you’ve spent your summer. 

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Social Pulse, Week of 8-12

Happy Birthday TikTok! August marks the one year mark of TikTok’s launch in the U.S., and today finds itself lauded for its creativity, the go-to place for the next Old Town Road, and the prime test-and-learn destination for brands. If you haven’t downloaded TikTok yet, check it out today!

DIY Face Filters Come to Instagram: Spark AR, Facebook’s tool for building augmented reality effects, now allows anyone to make custom face filters and other effects for Instagram Stories. Once a user follows a creator, effects from that account will automatically show up in the Stories camera’s effects tray. According to The Verge, because this week’s update will unleash a number of face filters into the Stories ecosystem, Instagram is adding a “Browse Effects” option at the end of the effects tray so users can discover and try new AR filters. Sweet!

VR Therapy: Would you give yourself life advice? A new study asked participants to play the role of virtual therapist for themselves—and the results suggest that VR could be an effective therapeutic device for some people. It’s a modern take on the “empty chair” technique —  a method of therapy that focuses on the present moment rather than the past….except using a VR version of yourself!

Watch Out, Newscasters! Three years ago Amazon launched a service called Polly that turns text into lifelike speech, allowing customers to create applications that talk – with zero machine learning expertise required. The tech giant is always striving to make the voices more lifelike and human, so this week they added two features – neural text to speech, which increases naturalness and expressiveness, and newscaster style, which mimics voices voice that like we expect to hear on the TV or radio.

Only 445 Days Until the 2020 Election: A recent Pew survey of U.S. adults found that 46% of social media users feel “worn out” by the number of political posts and discussions they encounter on social networks. Pew also found that 68% of social media users find it “stressful and frustrating” to discuss politics on social media with people they disagree with, while 27% said they found those interactions to be “interesting and informative,” down from 35% three years ago.

Tumblr is Worth Less than Your Rich Uncle’s Yacht: This week it was announced Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress parent, Automattic, for a price reported to be less than $3 million. It’s an embarrassingly small number and a price that’s incredibly less than the $1.1 billion that Yahoo paid for Tumblr in 2013. Look for some new advertising opportunities to come. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed did a round-up of 7 Condos You Could Buy In New York For The Same Price As Tumblr.

Visualizing the Web: The 100 biggest websites generated a staggering 206 billion visits in June 2019. Google, YouTube, and Facebook took the top spots, followed by Baidu and Wikipedia. The Visual Capitalist created this visualization of the global Top 100, and it illustrates Alphabet is killing it (Google’s parent company), making up the highest percentage of visit volume with 43.7% of the top 100 sites. While Amazon is definitely the biggest player in U.S. retail, its only #14 globally. (And by the way, pornography sites made up 2 of the top 10 visited sites at #8 & #10. GROSS!). See the complete visualization here. Yes, it’s SFW.

Snapchat Spectacles, V3: This week Snap announced the third iteration of Snapchat Spectacles. They will be stainless steel and come in rose gold! Would you wear a camera on your face? Snap thinks you will.

Subreddit of the Week: This week TNW pointed to a subreddit with 50,000 members called r/googlemapsshenanigans that documents hilarious finds in Google Maps, like censored cats, people posing for the Google Car, and jet contrails.

VSCO Girls? If you’ve been around a pre-teen or teenage girl this month you’ve probably heard about scrunchies, big shirts, metal straws and saving the turtles while talking in a valley girl accent. It’s a trend called VSCO Girls, and it’s as pervasive as it is annoying. The meme is derived from the photo editing app VSCO, which lets users share photos and make preset filters to help keep their images looking uniform. The trend is taking over Instagram and TikTok videos among this age group. This video pretty much sums it up. Save the turtles!