Sometimes I think exposing a kid to augmented reality is really messed up. So new to this world, children hardly have a grasp on Actual Reality in the first place. It’s like making a joke to a toddler about a dancing giraffe. As far as they’re concerned giraffes can dance. Basic assumptions about our world aren’t yet firm enough to bounce off of, for humor or otherwise. But then Lenovo and pro-Dad Disney made love and their baby, the Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, was recently delivered. I changed my mind.
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is an augmented reality game that lets you and your kids train to become Jedis through a suite of different games. The game includes a headset, a lightsaber, and an app which holds said games. The best, Light Saber Battles, involves slicing off the limbs of battle droids with your saber until they collapse into a heap of parts. The other games include Holochess, “the ultimate game of concentration”, which you might remember from A New Hope; and Strategic Combat, in which you are a general commanding troops in a large-scale ground war. But, as we all know, that sort of combat functionally ended in World War II and, anyway, who wants to think when you can slash?
But before you can kill things, you have to don the headset, the Lenovo Mirage. Beyond any epistemological qualms about AR, there’s this physical thing to contend with. The Lenovo Mirage is heavy, 1.42 pounds without the phone in it (The brains of the system are in your phone, so you must snap yours — it plays nice Apple and Android phones — into the visor) Ever see those HBO 24/7 episodes of boxers, I’m thinking of Floyd Mayweather in particular, who attach a weight to their neck to strengthen it? That’s what wearing a Lenovo Mirage feels like. I’m a grown-ass man, 36 years old and pure muscle (ha!), and even I felt like a daffodil, the slender stem of my neck ready to arc over. What’s more, the straps are cumbersome and difficult to adjust and, even when properly fitted, rest heavy on my cheekbones and the bridge of my nose. But no one ever said augmenting reality was going to be easy.
After a few tries, I got it. And, after orienting myself and aligning the lightsaber with what appears on the phone screen, the droids appeared. This orientation was achieved by gently waving the pleasingly substantial lightsaber in front of a tracking beacon, a cool glowing pink orb that senses motion. Even if you don’t futz with AR, that little orb is dope for your pad.
In case you can’t tell, didn’t grow up with Star Wars. In fact, according to my therapist, I didn’t grow up at all. I only vaguely know what a Jedi is and have learned most of my Star Wars knowledge from my children who know only what an AT-AT Walker is. But one does not need preexistent knowledge of this reality or that one to enjoy the game. You get to wear a headset and battle glowing monsters! Dayeinu. The lightsaber tracks so seamlessly with the game that you actually do feel – I actually did feel – that I was fighting off these metallic creeps. I was acrobatic but terrible at it. Though it’s beyond the métier of the game, I do wish you could kick. But my round-houses and front teeps were in vain. Only the saber matters.
After maybe 15 minutes of combat, a sheen of sweat and glory covered my flesh. I had chosen, perhaps unwisely, to wear a wool Missoni bathrobe. (The one thing I knew about Jedis is that they wear robes.) But the game is a workout. It’s HIIT from a galaxy far far away. As I lifted the Mirage from my eyes flushed with victory, a few things became clearer, the fogged up headset being the least important.
First, that I had better acculturate myself to Augmented Reality and get ahead of how to explain this shit to my kids. Relatedly, maybe I should just not sweat it. I was already ruining my robe and anyway, not being able to differentiate between Real, Augmented, and Virtual Reality is a problem of my generation, not my kids’. But what really stuck with me is the future. Games will, I’m certain, become more and more immersive and realistic. Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, for instance, is vastly more realistic than the Street Fighter I played growing up, mashing a bunch of buttons together until someone died. And that what transpires in these games is physical combat, but an asymmetrical physical combat in which one can inflict pain but not feel it, I do wonder at what point augmented reality will veer away or whether it will at all. As Yoda once said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”