The cubes fly towards your correspondent slowly at first, then quickly gather pace as the music speeds up. On his head he wears a chunky set of goggles. In each hand, he holds an imaginary laser sword that can chop the cubes in half before they reach his body. Each cube is marked with an arrow (designating the direction in which it must be sliced) and a colour (for which hand has to do the slicing—blue for right, red for left). The more vigorously the cubes are sliced in time with the music, the more points are scored. Horizontal and vertical barriers, mixed in with the cubes, must be avoided at all costs. A few minutes of swinging the imaginary swords around is tiring but oddly diverting. The simulation breaks down only when your correspondent gets too energetic with his jabs and crashes into a nearby (non-virtual) bookshelf.
Welcome to “Beat Saber”, one of the most popular games available on the Oculus Quest, a virtual-reality headset. Though it is possible to experience and explore virtual worlds without having to put on a headset, doing so provides a new level of immersion, as screens in front of each eye, and sensors that map the movement of the wearer’s head, create the illusion of being inside a 3d environment. It is magical—but the awkwardness and cost of vr headsets is the main reason why there has always been a gulf between the promise of vr and the reality.