National Geographic Explore VR: Grade A Horror Game

Sneer Headquarters has somewhat recently gained an Oculus Quest. The reasoning was twofold: it was time for us to enter the ViRtUaL FuTuRe and, also, quarantines were beginning. We deserved a treat.

Dollissa and I are not video gamists by hobby. We are famously bad at getting into them unless they are the most tedious form of phone app. We are simpleheaded folk who have no business plunging our unprepared and possibly insane minds into any such headset, and soon you will understand why.

My first time in the game where you sit in a pretty field.

When we were first purchasing games, we automatically knew that anything that required a lot of moving or horror or shooting was just a big fat NOTHXPLZ. But we found some games for babies, like the Job Simulator which for all I know is a 100% accurate portrayal of normal human jobs. And we found some games with no point earning or plot aside from “sit in the field and relax.” Or, in the case of Tripp, “this simulated psychedelic trip is supposed to be healing you.”

National Geographic Explore VR is a game where you are a photographer out on assignment in Machu Picchu or Antarctica. We got them mostly because those are my top two places that I would like to travel! It’s all very realistic and you get sent back to realistic Incan settings and look at an old mummy that my memory brain thinks is real, and the heights are dizzying and the llamas are unthreatening. It’s great. I love it. I took pictures like the pro I am and felt good about these little life decisions.

Then I eventually figured out how to go to Antarctica instead and everything changed.

You begin on a little dock next to a ship as your helper lowers a sea kayak to you and envies that you get to paddle to the mainland somehow. “Oh it’s so relaxing,” he says cheerfully. “You’re going to love it!” I doubted him, but then he said, “keep an eye out, you never know what might happen!” I’m sure the makers of the game thought that they were promising adventure, but I froze in TERROR. Who knew this would be a Horror Genre Game? And now that I have watched the youtube I just included, I guess I would have known if I had watched that first.

First Attempt

I tried not to think about my bigtime fear of natural bodies of water as I unsteadily got into the kayak. I floated a few feet forward and became overwhelmed by how too very real all of the sea sounds were. As if “paddling in the frozen sea” wasn’t terrifying enough, by the way, it’s also MISTY. So envision a bunch of glaciers and ice formations looming around. I exited the game.

Second Attempt

This time, I kept repeating to myself that it isn’t real, like I shouldn’t have to ever do. I had decided to play while sitting on the floor already which it wasn’t prepared for me to do, so when I sat in the kayak, I seemed to be about eighteen inches tall and my head was nearly at the same level as the water. I decided to be really macho and paddle as fast as I could with my eyes squeezed shut, assuming that the current was designed to bring me to wherever I am supposed to go. I ran into an ice floe and in my panic of looking around to see where I even was, the towering peaks everywhere surrounding me caused me to exit the game.

Once upon a time, I unknowingly drew a picture of my future traumatic experience.

Third Attempt

Days later, I decided to try again. As the kayak was lowering to me, I made the mistake of staring into the water. Super realistic fish shapes were darting around and I was already unable to do anything else. I exited the game feeling sickened — both because fish are too scary, and out of shame for my own irrational cowardice/insanity.

Fourth Attempt

When you start the game, you begin inside of your very swanky modern home base, presumably funded by National Geographic. Your photos are on the wall, magazines are on the table, and there is a globe where you get to choose which location you are heading to. I went to the globe and the window showed the Antarctic seascape it would be wooshing me towards. As icy terror washed over me, I exited the game before I even tried to try.

Fifth Attempt

On this particular day I was feeling good, feeling strong. I leapt into action and got right into that kayak. I resolved to just paddle as fast as I could, staring straight ahead, fearing that if I looked down, the game makers would have decided to scare me with a false killer whale, just an ordinary whale about to breach and end my life, or some elder god’s gigantic furious eye. Why would they have ever done such a thing? My mind wasn’t in a place to talk itself out of the notion.


I paddled my little arms off, ignoring the little radio man’s suggestion that I take some leisurely photos of the archways of ice, or the seal animals lazing around on the ice that I wasn’t allowed to get onto. Everything was terrible and I wasn’t enjoying myself, and then there was this gigantic noise that I thought was a whale surfacing, but as I exited the game in a panic, I saw that it was a glacier crumbling in the distance. If it would have jostled me with a wave, I would have been MAD. And traumatized.

I haven’t gone back to conquer my fear yet. My fear of pretending to paddle an imaginary kayak in a fake sea from the comfort of the living room is too great.

P.S. Dollissa hasn’t even tried to play it once. She knows better.

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