As I scrambled along the living room floor, gripping a rattle and heading toward a stack of building blocks, I asked, “Does anyone actually change my diaper in this adventure?”
I was serious. Yes, this was during a club night at Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace. But still, everything a baby experiences was in play in this playpen. Soiled Pampers were not out of the question.
The scene was the CES 2020 DreamlandXR: Music, Technology and E-Sports Festival opening party. The fete was co-sponsored by club operator Hakkasan Group along with CES, UNLV and virtual-reality companies such as Alienware, Chicken Waffle, Centertec, VR Arcade, BHaptics and XRzine. All are significant players in the VR world and mingled easily in in the club’s main room and outdoor terrace overlooking the Strip (until that platform was closed because it became virtually freezing up there).
VR, as its commonly known in shorthand, is a booming culture and industry. The game I was invited to play, Baby Hands, allows you to experience the world as an actual baby. The game is a newbie from Chicken Waffle, a VR game publisher out of Austin, Texas. To play, you are outfitted with an Oculus Quest VR headset and a couple of hand-held controllers that direct a pair of pudgy little baby hands.
You are trapped in a playpen. Then you grab at a screwdriver — GRAB IT! — and unlock the gate. You’re then free to crawl around a living room — HURRY! — while flipping a TV remote control, dropping a toy DeLorean onto a slot-car track, squeezing a stuffed frog, even peering into a toilet.
If you are advanced enough, you can snap up a slice of pizza and feed it to a turtle, and pull what appears to be a massage unit from your parents’ nightstand.
It’s so exciting, especially with the thundering electronic music of DJ Mark Eteson and DJ Fergie playing in the background. At one point, I excitedly shouted, “I see a binky!” But it was, in fact, my unseen mommy’s wedding ring, hidden under a cradle.
The game is appropriate for the entire family. It is also ideally suited for a nightclub, where you could rave for a bit, then Baby Hands, then rave some more …
The overarching DreamlandXR event runs throughout CES. The extensive CES sub-convention has taken over Alexis Park and kicked off Monday with a mixer at Jewel Nightclub at Aria. It continues to run through Thursday night’s closing event at Hakkasan Nightclub at MGM Grand, headlined by Tiesto. (Steve Aoki, Tuesday night’s announced headliner, had to cancel for what was club official said were travel delays.)
Vegas is a suitable destination for an array of VR and E-sports companies to meet, share concepts and launch products.
“Austin is a hub of creativity, but we appreciate Las Vegas for the value of spectacle,” Chicken Waffle CEO Finn Staber said on the Omnia outdoor deck, with the lights of the Strip looming as a backdrop. “There is so much of an amazing opportunity for us to be able to host a message to a large group of people in a way no other city can.”
DreamlandXR founder Christopher Crescitelli said the industry is more collaborative than competitive.
“What we’re doing is putting all of our people under one roof,” said Crescitelli, donning an aqua-sequined jacket that was itself something of a spectacle. “We’re all friends. It’s probably the most collective industry I’ve observed. Even direct competitors want everyone to succeed, because it’s good for everyone in the industry to be motivated to grow.”
Judging from the DreamlandXR opener, the industry is maturing. It’s long past its baby steps. The Baby Hands prove it.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.