Last year Meta, then known as Facebook, announced its plans to create a massive online space that would blend together the digital and real worlds called the metaverse.
The idea of the metaverse – a term borrowed from a dystopian sci-fi novel – has understandably left more people feeling more concerned than thrilled. After social interaction was mostly confined to Zoom calls and online chats, I can see why people have had enough of online hangouts.
Yet, as my partner and I have experienced, it might not be as scary as people think. Our time playing Walkabout Mini Golf with friends online has helped us feel less isolated than ever – and, according to the developer, we aren’t the only players to feel that way.
VR is an escape from my isolation
Unlike most of the team here at TechRadar – who are generally found near our offices in London, New York, and Bath – I’m based in a small countryside UK town in the middle of nowhere. One of my neighbors is a horse and public transport is non-existent.
It’s the sort of sparsely populated, unconnected spot that people look to escape from as soon as they turn 18 – and most never look back. If they do return it’s usually to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan lifestyle, raise a family, retire, or (on occasion) all of the above.
As such, pretty much everyone I know has gone away for some reason or another, moving off to distant lands that you can’t visit in an evening after work. My girlfriend has found it isolating here too, as she’s moved away from her tight-knit circle of friends and family – and the pandemic made making new local friends a challenge, to say the least.
We’ve tried video calling, playing online games, everything we can to stay connected with people over the internet. So far, nothing has come close to beating us taking a many-hour long car ride to go and visit people in person.
Well, almost nothing.
In an attempt to escape the monotony of countryside life we thought we’d try out the Meta Quest 2 VR headset. The single-player experiences were a blast, but the tech really shines when you’re playing with other people that you know online.
Ready for a round of VR minigolf?
Our go-to VR title when playing online multiplayer is Walkabout Mini Golf – simply one of the best VR games ever made. Developed by Mighty Coconut, it perfectly combines realistic yet simple controls with stunning level design to create an excellent minigolf sim in VR.
It also offers some of the best multiplayer gaming on the Quest 2, but surprisingly it was almost a single player-only experience.
Speaking to Lucas Martell, the game’s creator, he told us that Walkabout Mini Golf didn’t have multiplayer at first but, “Oculus [now Meta] actually, they pushed us to add multiplayer in there.
“Especially back then, there just weren’t that many headsets out there, but I’m so glad [Oculus] did push us because now we’re building so much around multiplayer.”
Walkabout’s multiplayer success makes so much sense in hindsight.
For one, the game is incredibly approachable. Even if you’re completely new to gaming or VR, the recognizability of mini golf – and the game’s lack of complex controls – makes it easy to jump in and play a round.
But there’s more to it than that, the surrounding scenery and the minigolf help create a beautiful, relaxing social environment that mimics real life.
As Martell explains, “That sense of space and your surroundings is critical in multiplayer VR especially. Because there’s the time between shots where you’ll be looking around, catching up and you’ll be going through the level more slowly.
Also by sharing in this activity – playing minigolf while you talk – the game helps to make the whole experience feel more casual. It’s like when everyone is standing around in the kitchen cooking together and you can get into those casual yet meaningful conversations because the social pressure has been lifted off.”
Based on my own experiences, Martell is 100% correct. Rather than feeling like family and friends are hundreds of miles away, Walkabout made it feel like we were in a room together and able to joke around just like we would in real life.
It was no surprise to me, then, when Martell revealed that players had met, started dating, and even proposed within Walkabout. Just like minigolf courses in real life, this VR world is a destination that people go to visit, grow attached to and form meaningful memories in. The same can’t be said of Zoom calls.
Enter the metaverse
While Walkabout Mini Golf isn’t on the scale of a metaverse, Martell hopes his game is a representation of how an ideal virtual world would work.
Because, as he sees it, the main advantage of a metaverse wouldn’t be its enormous scale. Instead, it’s the ease with which it could facilitate people coming together across different spaces and hardware.
“Think of Reddit,” he said. “You have these microcosms of interest, and people can jump between them and interact with each other. Each subreddit has its own interests and pockets of people, and you can access the site through a range of different devices.
Similarly, if a metaverse can reduce the friction between these pockets of VR communities then that kind of thing should be what’s encouraged.”
So far it looks like this frictionless interaction is at the forefront of metaverse developers’ minds; however, there’s the risk that platform exclusivity could hinder progress towards Martell’s vision of a Reddit-like scenario.
Martell believes one of the best elements of Walkabout is its cross-platform functions – people can play together across Quest, Steam, Vive, and even on Android and iOS smartphones. If Valve, Meta, and Vive players are each trapped in their own metaverse pockets, this bright, interconnected future would be lost.
I sincerely hope this won't be the case though.
Walkabout Mini Golf has shown me that there’s something worthwhile to be gleaned from the metaverse – a kind of online social space that just isn’t possible without the aid of VR.
If you’re feeling cautious, or even a little frightened about the idea of a metaverse, I’d encourage you to try playing a round of Walkabout Mini Golf in VR with a friend. Five minutes into playing the new Sweetopia map and you’ll be sold on the whole concept.
- Check out: the best Oculus Quest 2 games of 2022
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.