Shortly after high school, Eric Labashosky joined the Marine Corps for four years because he needed to get his life straight. These days the 53-year-old software developer plays on one of the best Onward teams in North America, is committed to the love of his life, and seems surprised by the fact that he’s the oldest player in VR League season 3.
Labashosky’s journey with virtual reality began in 2016 when he ordered his first headset. Although he had played Doom and other traditional first-person shooters, he had never anticipated playing FPS games in VR.
Then he discovered Onward.
“Onward has always been a fun game to play,” he states, referring to the VR multi-player military shooter from Downpour Interactive. “But it's more than just fun. Playing Onward competitively is by far the most intense experience I’ve ever had playing a video game.”
Like most other Onward players, Labashosky, known as xAirrick in game, was first introduced to competitive Onward in late 2016 or early 2017 when members of the community began organizing tournaments.
His team, the Legionnaires, was founded in January of that year and they officially joined the VR Master League, a community driven platform specifically designed to support competitive VR, at the beginning of season 2. They continue to participate in that league as well as the VR League, where they placed first in the North American region for Onward during last week's cup.
Since his partner Joanna isn’t much of a gamer, Labashosky says she thinks it’s strange that he straps on a headset and gets “lost in the game interacting with seemingly invisible people.”
Fortunately he has a little more understanding through his step-son, Christian, who was an experienced player of Unreal Tournament and even won some LAN competitions.
“He understands how enjoyable it is playing competitively against other highly skilled players,” explains Labashosky, who is incredibly proud of the part he played in his step-son’s life.
“I helped raise Christian,” states Labashosky. “Being a step-father was a great experience for me. We were best friends and I had the honor of being his best man at his wedding.”
While older players might experience more physical challenges, one of the advantages of being an older player is that many of the responsibilities that keep people so busy in our 20s and 30s are no longer as much of an issue. Once you reach late 40s or 50s and beyond, usually our children have reached an age where they can function independently, our formal education might be complete, careers have been chosen, etc. It’s a terrific time to invest in activities that are not only healthy physically, but that also benefit us mentally and emotionally. Since VR is more of a level playing field than traditional computer games, it’s also possible to play against younger competitors without a huge deficit.
“I knew a guy that was 82 and was playing Onward,” says Labashosky. “As long as you can stand and turn, you can play.” In fact, compared to all the VR League games this season, Onward has the highest average age (30) among the players. Average age for Echo Arena and Space Junkies players this season is 23 while Echo Combat players are the youngest, averaging 22 years of age.
Although he doesn’t really feel like the age difference gives him a specific advantage or disadvantage, a lifetime of experience does give older players a different perspective.
As a marathon runner, for example, Labashosky spent plenty of time alone.
“Running is a very isolating sport,” he states, “and there is a lot of self-reflection.”
In multi-player VR games like Onward, however, your time “is always spent with others,” says Labashosky, “which is why it’s so enjoyable.”
The appeal of being in one’s own home, strapping on a headset, and spending time with “seemingly invisible people” might seem odd to some, but for those who have experienced the joy of multi-player VR, it’s incredibly appealing. It’s an affordable, convenient way to meet people and make friends from around the world.
“The Onward community is very tight,” explains Labashosky. “The teams within the community are even tighter.”
Although he admits that the relationships he has made in VR “can't compare to the bonds you build in the Marine Corps (or any service) where you spend 100% of your time with your fellow Marines,” he says he has made a lot of good friends through the game.
Since average consumers have only had access to virtual reality for a few years, it will be interesting to see how our relationships with fellow humans continue to evolve as the technology becomes even more common.
In fact, it might be easier to follow Labashosky’s advice to his younger self.
“Stay in touch with friends,” he states, “Don’t call them when you need something. Just call them to say hi.”
With virtual reality, you can stay in touch with your friends – young or old – play games with them, watch movies together even if you’re on different continents, or hang out with them on Mars for a bit. If we’re learning anything through VR, it’s not just that there seem to be less boundaries in regards to age, physical ability, etc. but we’re also learning that many things that were considered “impossible” might actually be possible - no matter what age you are.
Sonya Haskins is better known among the gaming community by the username "hasko7." She lives with her husband and five children in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Northeast Tennessee.