‘Summer Lesson’ for PlayStation VR Made Me Feel Like a Creep, and That’s a Good Thing


Summer Lesson is a “VR Character Communication Demo” for Sony’s PlayStation VR headset by some of the same folks behind the famous Tekken franchise. The experience puts you in intimate proximity with young virtual women. After trying the experience for myself—and at moments feeling like a total creep—I realized that Summer Lesson is a great demonstration of VR’s ability to connect with us on a deeply human level.

I won’t pretend to know much about the culture surrounding games that fall into the ‘dating sim’ genre, or even if that’s even the ultimate intention of Summer Lesson. But one thing I do know is that Summer Lesson is the first game ever forced the feeling of being a creep upon me.

While the modern gaming landscape is rife with paper-thin AI comrades that function more as tools than actual people as you battle your way across the galaxy, Summer Lesson is about intimate interactions with AI characters and making you feel like there is a soul inside the virtual human standing next to you. And it does a damn good job, helped in no insignificant way by the power of virtual reality.

We’ve so far seen two settings and two characters in Summer Lesson: the bedroom of a high school girl and a house by the sea with a blonde-haired American girl.

The environments are as intimately detailed as your interactions with the characters. The Unreal Engine 4 based scenery is positively impressive, with a stylized look that still feels to approach photorealism, thanks to an emphasis on lighting rather than textures. The two scenes seen so far are littered with detail; the beach house is set against a wall of well attended sunflowers, as evident by the watering cans and unspooled hose laying across the yard.

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Donning the PlayStation VR headset for the demo (spanning 10 minutes or so), the scene unfolds with you as an active participant. The girls address you directly with dialogue that seems to indicate that you might be a tutor of some sort.

summer lesson playstation vr (6)

The exposition is driven entirely by the girls, with the player as a silent protagonist capable of interacting at certain times, agreeing or disagreeing when prompted by nodding yes or no, and by looking at certain cues around the environment. The attractive girls often take up positions within arm’s length, sometimes bending over or stretching in suggestive ways.

summer lesson playstation vr (10)It’s all innocent enough, but the characters are imbued with enough life and personality to make me incredibly aware of my own personal space—and equally aware of when I was rudely encroaching upon theirs.

In the scene at the house by the sea, the blonde-haired American girl eventually walked over and sat right near me—closer than two strangers would normally sit next to one another. This suggested that I—or my avatar, I should say—had a fairly close relationship with the girl. But since I was merely a guest inhabiting the virtual body of that avatar, I lacked the pre-existing relationship that was implied between the two, and I was left feeling like a stranger sitting too close to someone unknown.

summer lesson playstation vr (9)

As the scene moved along, the blonde-haired girl got out a Japanese study book and asked me to clarify some language for her. To do this she got even closer to me, leaned her head over right near mine and asked me to take a look at the book that she now held before us both.

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This was every bit as awkward as walking up to a stranger on the street and putting my face inches away from theirs. And it made me feel like a total creep—something no form of media outside of VR has ever done.

There I was, in VR, worried about having invaded the personal space of a virtual character, and yet all the same, unable to turn off that natural human instinct despite knowing full well that she was nothing more than ones and zeros.

In my experience even the most immersive, well directed movie can’t reach out and make you personally—the person sitting in the audience—feel this way. The very best a big screen movie can do is to portray a character on the screen as such, but that still leaves the audience disconnected. Even in (non-VR) games, where the player has agency in a virtual world, there’s still a chasm between the identity of the player and the character that the player controls inside the game.

summer lesson playstation vr (14)It takes many layers of immersion to bridge that gap. At a basic level, the headset has to be good enough to make you feel immersed with relatively good graphics, tracking, stereoscopy, and field of view. Then, the characters themselves have to be properly scaled, believably animated, and interactive.

The girls of Summer Lesson are skillfully designed and effectively avoid the dreaded uncanny valley—that strange point somewhere between almost human and actually human where computer animated characters seem creepier the closer they get to looking ‘actually human’.

The girls convey a certain sense of being human even without the kind of blockbuster motion capture and animation you find in modern films. Their big emotive eyes have successfully captured an anime-like appeal without feeling unbelievable. The American girl’s voice is noticeably overacted, but that may be intentional; although Summer Lesson might feel more like Creep Simulator 2016, something that happens at the end of the demo (which I won’t spoil) suggests there may be more to the experience down the road than just ogling and the occasional nodding.

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The incredible levels of immersion afforded by modern headsets like PlayStation VR can create these intimate human feelings like no media before. This is but one demonstration of virtual reality’s fundamental ability to connect with us on a human level, which will enable VR to convey personally emotional stories.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Joe Nickence

    I have always been of the opinion that the Japanese have been on the right track by using Anime and Anime-like characters (Avatars? Beings?) in all of their games and apps. They definitely understand the uncanny valley effect and its consequences. And now that immersive VR is on the horizon, this will only solidify the design concepts. Watching the video above, I can totally understand the creep factor. :-)

  • bji

    Oh my god this is HILARIOUS. And incredibly interesting, all at the same time.

    At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying a Vive AND a Rift AND a PS4 and Playstation VR next year, just so that I can enjoy every single VR experience on offer. It will be an expensive year but from what I’ve seen, well worth it!

    Will this Summer Lesson game be available in the US?

  • brantlew

    The gaming world is already filled with individuals with poor social skills. Hopefully we don’t end up subverting basic social rules of “personal space” with these sorts of experiences. One can imagine worst-case sorts of scenarios where we have people roaming around like 4-year-olds just staring intently at people around them – unaware of the social ramifications.

    • HappyHimitsu

      I would imagine that by the time that would become an issue, *if* that ever becomes an issue, everybody else will be awkward as well so….

      All good. ;p

    • Darshan Gayake

      IMO All know the out comes of invading personal space so it less likely to miss fire in reality just because some one tried this experience. Though they are subtle clues in this experience it more tries to be interaction (may be a date) simulator which want to give you sense of realism with being with real person in close proximity. to lure you in to it developer carefully selected subject ( High number of Gamers/ Gizmodos/ Early Tech Adopters are male as numbers say) but IMO its more about make you feel you are there than satisfying fantasy.

  • sntXrrr

    I came to exactly the same conclusion after experiencing one of the Miku dance demos last year. Seeing a 1:1 scaled avatar and personal space is a powerfull combination and I can’t wait untill some gamestudio exploits it for some good storytelling. Imagine something as well written as “The last of us” like this. It would totally blow peoples minds, in a good way.
    On a similar note: in my opinion 3d movies are wasted on blockbusters, interpersonal interaction is where stereoscopy is most natural.

    • Darshan Gayake

      Exactly we all badly need ” The LAST oF US” for PLAYSTATION VR… it will be more record breaking than final fantasy imo.

  • Classof1812

    Completely agree with you on this Ben, I found this a surprisingly progressive experience for these reasons, and it gave me some hope about how deeply we’ll be able to invest in NPCs in VR. You’re actively discouraged from getting too close, both by game design and social conventions, so when the poor deluded girl eventually nestles in to show you her Japanese homework and ask your opinion, I felt a stronger responsibility to answer genuinely and honestly that I have no bloody idea whatsoever about Japanese. I instinctively responded exactly the same way I would in the same Real Life situation, and although I’m sure the game isn’t reading that, it definitely provoked it. It was a surprisingly effective ‘wow!’ realisation for me, and quite a step outside the box from almost every other VR experience I can think of. Fascinating stuff, and it elevated this above being just a creepy voyeur experience, which was what I was expecting going in.

    • Darshan Gayake

      Reinforcing my comment to brantlew. Classof1812 you liked realism of being there in such detailed environment at pleasing time and location. primarily though being with desirable subject is add on you liked too.
      So imo developer is successful in building some thing interactive realistic and one which people like to buy at same time it is not breaking any laws *Though i too want to not to break any law in future as full experience*.
      To make VR truly successful there got to be such games/experiences in VR, where there is lot of interaction and emotional exchange with sensible action and super gripping (immersive) stroyline.

  • FrostyHugs

    “I felt like a creep”
    OK, lets see here. This is a dating sim type of game right? That implies that you are building a relationship with the characters within. There’s nothing creepy about that, especially when they aren’t real to begin with. Remember fantasy vs reality.
    Your reaction when she moves in close to you is also incredibly baffling. Your reaction to a pretty girl sitting next to you and talking to you shouldn’t be, “oh my god I’m invading her personal space and being creepy” it should be, “oh my god this pretty women is sitting really close and is talking to me.”

    I fail to ever see why one would feel creepy because a pretty women wanted to hang out with them and talk about learning languages, especially in a video game where it’s not real anyway. The only thing missing in this game it seems, is options for everyone. I’m sure some women want to try this with some cute guy characters.

    • Sam Tosh Wrangles

      Shes a teenage school girl…. And you show up in her bedroom… Unexpectedly…..

      • FrostyHugs

        Story of my short life. Keep whining about non-H games btw.

  • biscoibitade

    This is amazing Ben. its coming at a time when I’ve decided to go into gamin and VR proper, giving my early days, I didn’t have the chance of experiencing top quality stuffs like this, but its about to change, infact, it has as I’ve started my journey and I’ve even written about it here http://inspiredfully.com/applicable-lessons-learnt-playstation/ . I’ll book mark this site for further follow up. Nice one!

  • Terry Walton

    Very honest review of your experience with VR and this game. Please keep writing articles like this. I am very impressed. Maybe someday there will be more games based on the human experience of love and understanding, as opposed to the kill or be killed scenario of todays video games.