Virtually the best Christmas present

As mentioned in January’s editorial, the festive season can be a crazy time for us here in the Later Levels household. As well as the usual flurry of activity – travelling between family members, setting up toys gifted to younger relations, stopping dad from snoring after he falls asleep on the sofa – being a step-parent family comes with its own set of challenges.

One such challenge was the fact we didn’t get to see my stepson Ethan on either the big day or Boxing Day. I won’t go into detail but suffice to say this wasn’t through choice; I’ve written before that our situation is almost like playing a co-op game and unfortunately sometimes you don’t win. We were a little worried about how the festive season would work out for us but it turned out to be one of the best we’ve had together.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Giant Cop, Ethan, Gillian, Hickman, virtual reality

We decided to take Ethan to Rezzed with us for the first time back in April, finally him deeming him old enough for the event. He was nervous about trying out virtual reality (VR) before we arrived but he couldn’t get enough of it after finding Giant Cop by Other Ocean. Consumer Sales Manager Gillian Hickman ended up becoming his new best friend and even let him play the last demo of the show (his third attempt).

Fast-forward seven months and my parents took him to a Christmas party with them in early December where they asked him what he was hoping to find under the tree. He told them he’d really love a PlayStation VR but wasn’t expecting one because it was ‘such a big present’… little did he know that my other-half and I had already been speaking to our families to organise everyone in clubbing together to get Ethan a very special gift.

The look on his face as he unwrapped it on the weekend before the big day was priceless – and unlike the time when I gifted a PlayStation 4 to the boys, I actually had a camera ready! We’d had the foresight to get a travel case to go along with the hardware so the PSVR came with us wherever we were that weekend, so my stepson could thank everyone and show them how to use it.

Ethan, Pete, Christmas, PlayStation VR

My dad was amazed at ‘how far the technology has come’ after remembering what it was like when it tried it in the early 1990s. My brother became hooked on Superhot before persuading my sister-in-law to try, and then ate his words she turned out to be great at VR Luge. Even the mums and my aunt had a go, coming face-to-face with a shark in Ocean Descent, before we took a break from VR with some Overcooked.

My stepson spent most of our time together being a mechanic or gourmet chef in Job Simulator. While it was great to find a game which was very suitable for his age, it’s one of the most mind-numbing titles to watch; all I can say is that his favourite YouTuber has a lot to answer for. Shoot-em-up Dick Wilde was much more entertaining and most of the family had a go at fending off the critter-horde.

I say ‘most of the family’ because I didn’t actually use the headset myself. I’ve tried VR several times in recent years and I’m sadly one of those unlucky individuals who suffer from the motion-sickness, feeling queasy after a few minutes and wanting to get back to real-life. That didn’t stop me from enjoying watching my other-half play The Assembly after Ethan had gone to bed though, helping with the puzzles and figuring out which decisions to take.

It also didn’t stop me from feeling included. VR has the potential to be an isolating because the experience is private to the user and they shut themselves away when they put on a headset. But because the entire family was gathered around watching what was happening on the television, throwing out helpful advice and making jokes, it felt as if we were all enjoying a shared gaming experience.

Some people will read this post and feel as though we’ve spoiled my stepson by giving him such a present. That’s something I’ve always been conscious of and as mentioned above, being part of a step-parent household comes with unique obstacles. I’m still learning but I think we’ve navigated the majority quite positively so far, and we’re realistic about those which will come our way in the future.

A PSVR was a big investment, but it was one our family members were happy to be included in and it was great for all of us to be able to give Ethan something he really wanted. He wasn’t remotely bothered that there was only a single gift waiting for him under the tree this year and seemed to get just as much pleasure from teaching other people how to play the games than from playing them himself.

PlayStation VR, Christmas, Pete, Patricia

So we went from worrying about not seeing my stepson on Christmas day to the entire family coming together to enjoy an amazing ‘merry not-Christmas‘ (as we started saying); and we took a potentially solitary experience and turned it into a lovely social one. No doubt the future will hold many more VR experiences for Ethan and he’ll be roping the rest of the family into the journey with him, whether we’re happy to use the headset ourselves or simply watch others doing so.

30 thoughts on “Virtually the best Christmas present

  1. This is a sweet story and I’m glad Ethan was surprised on Christmas. I won’t pretend to know anything about step-parenting, but it seems like you’re doing a great job.


  2. It sounds as though you all had an excellent Christmas! I really enjoy reading about the different ways people bring gaming into their lives. Ethan’s a lucky chap to receive a PSVR, but even luckier to have a family who’ll take the time to enjoy it with him.


    • We were disappointed when we found out Ethan wouldn’t be with us for Christmas, but our weekend together ended up being a lot of fun (particularly seeing my sister-in-law shock everyone with her gaming skills!). It was lovely being able to watch the VR bring the family together in a shared experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t say that I really have anything comparable to relate, but it sounds like you managed to make it a special weekend regardless of the date.

        … We subjected family members to Overcooked (much to my Mom and Sister’s bemusement) and some Mario kart! 😁


  3. It sounds like you all had a fantastic Christmas and it was all worth it. Ethan sounds so sweet and I’m glad he was happy, and that you had your camera ready this time. I hope you all continue to enjoy VR (you included even if not using it directly yourself).


    • It’s a shame I can’t use it for long, because I’d have loved to try Skyrim VR… it would take an age to get through if I can only play it for a couple of minutes at a time! No doubt there’ll be a few more VR-related stories this year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • That would take a while in bursts of a couple of minutes. It sounds like an amazing game to have in VR but only if you could manage it. I’m sure there will be lots of VR stories this year and I’m sure that these are memories that stick with Ethan.

        Liked by 1 person

    • It’s lovely to think that Ethan will (hopefully) remember occasions like this when he’s an adult, the same way as I remember gaming with my dad and brother at Christmas. 🙂


      • Yeah, I remember my dad playing with us when we were kids. My other older sister used to play with Kris and myself as well. She’s not into video games anymore though.


        • It’s the reverse for us: I’m the older child, and it’s my brother who isn’t really into video games any longer. We still managed to rope him into a few rounds of Overcooked with us though. 😉


  4. I totally feel you on the motion-sickness thing. I played PSVR at an acquaintance’s house when it first came out – or rather, at my mother-in-law’s house, but the acquaintance owned the headset. Anyway, it only took a couple minutes of leaning out of a moving vehicle trying to shoot bad guys on motorcycles to make me regret that decision.
    The way you described it, Ethan is sharing well and is gaming responsibly with VR, and he understood how much of an investment that present was. That to me distinguishes your situation from “spoiling” him, since he’s legitimately appreciative and understands there was some community/sacrifice involved. All in all, it sounds like you all made the best of what time you did have with him for the holidays and had a wonderful time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such a shame because I’d love to be able to play Skyrim VR. But instead I get to watch others do so… and then feel glad it’s not me flailing my arms around with a headset on. 😉

      Ethan can have his moments (as can we all) but on the whole he’s a really good kid, and he makes my job far easier than it could be. It’s nice seeing him want to share his present with others rather than keeping it to himself – in doing so, he’s creating future memories for all of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad it was something all the family could get involved in, sounds like you had a lovely festive period even if it went celebrated on actual Christmas Day, Ethan is very lucky to have you in his life!


  6. Aw! I’m glad your family is enjoying the VR experience so much! Ethan is going to have so many wonderful gaming memories to look back on 🙂 Sorry to hear you get motion sickness from it though. I think that will be a huge issue with this technology.


    • A few other bloggers have said they experience the motion sickness too, so at least I now know I’m not just being a wimp ha ha ha! I’ve read a few guides on ‘how to prevent it’ but nothing seems to really do the trick unfortunately. It’s interesting seeing how they try to take it into account during game design though – like the ways developers get around your character having to move.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s been lovely seeing how VR can bring people together, despite being something which at first seems like a very isolating experience. 🙂


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