Can VR Train New Gun Owners?

I assure you this is for work, is what I said when I donned an Oculus Quest 2 headset to begin playing an intense first-person shooter known as Onward VR.

I had been alternating between Onward and another game called Contractors. Months ago, I purchased the Occulus 2 for my kiddos and have only recently tried it with any kind of depth.

What inspired me was my son asking me how to reload an AK rifle. He was specifically frustrated with the game he was playing on Oculus.

I said something like, “I don’t know, hit the button that reloads.” My experience with first-person shooters and shooters, in general, is that to reload, you just hit a button.

He explained that it didn’t work like that, and you had to reload “like for real.” He explained he had the mag in, but it wouldn’t shoot. I asked if he had tried the charging handle, and in his inquisitive silence, I told him how to do it.

A second later, the sounds of gunfire resumed, and he figured it out. Not long after, I tried my hand at the game and was immediately enthralled. The movements were realistic. The reloading, the aiming, the two-handed support…it was unlike any other game I had ever played.

For about a week after he resigned himself to his room, I’d strap the Oculus Quest 2 on and have a blast. I loved Contractors VR and the survival mode in particular. I enjoyed the realistically modeled guns and how I had to aim, reload, and use the cover in a more immersive manner.

It wasn’t long before I realized this could be an effective training tool and set out to prove it.

A Kid, AR, and a Video Game

My oldest son is already a pretty good shooter and has been shooting in the NRA Marksmanship Qualification program.

He has an interest, so I tagged him in my experiment. I had him play either Contractors or another similar game called Onward and use either the M16A4 or the MK-18 with a red dot equipped.

I told him to just play the game, win some matches, and get used to the gun.

Both the M16A4 and MK-18 are derivatives of the Stoner AR-15, with several differences that are worth noting. The game can’t exactly teach things like ballistics, but the general controls between the various military rifles aren’t much different than any of my other ARs.

After a few rounds using the Stoner-derived rifles, we turned it off and went outside. With some Tipton Snap Caps, my CMMG MkGs, and a Glock mag, we set out to see what he learned.

He has the four rules of gun safety down without issue, but he’s never handled an AR.

With a clear weapon and dummy rounds, I asked him to load the gun. Without an issue, he grabbed the mag, inserted it into the magwell and pulled the charging handle to the rear, and let it slingshot forward. Keep in mind I offered no instruction and only ensured he could safely handle the gun.

Next, I told him to reload. That stumped him for a second. In the VR games, there is a button to release the magazine in certain rifles. If you are playing with an M16A4, you hit a button on the controller to release the magazine.

“Look for the button then,” I told him, and he did just that, finally finding the magazine release. He pressed it, and the mag dropped out, making him regret wearing flip-flops for a minute. He then loaded the next magazine and racked the charging handle once more.

We repeated the process with a PSA AK GF3 rifle and figured it out quite quickly. The shotgun was a little trickier, and while the reloads are quasi-realistic, they aren’t quite there. You have to load the magazine tube, but you just kind of put the shell in there, and it pops in.

He’s never shot with a red dot before, but without my instruction, he could get the dot up, in his vision, and on target. When we finally went live, he remarked how easy using a red dot was and how he just looked at the target, and the dot was there.

Admittedly, the VR game isn’t a perfect training tool, but the potential is there. It’s also worth mentioning the two games we played weren’t training tools. They were just games with some sense of realism to them.

Mil Sims & Tactics

The game Onward is a military simulation shooter that does have some realistic aspects to it.

I went through the training mode and firing range and tried out the M249 SAW, a belt-fed light machine gun. Unlike other guns, reloading isn’t straightforward.

I’ve shot the SAW a lot during my time in the Marines, and it’s almost like second nature to me. The game captures reloads perfectly.

You remove the old drum and insert a new drum. Lift the top cover, and then grab your belt of ammo from the drum and slide it over the feed tray. You then close the top cover and charge the open bolt of the weapon.

If you had never fired the M249 SAW, this might be difficult for you to picture, and it’s certainly not easy to figure out on your own. I know this because there are dozens of videos on YouTube showing how to reload the SAW and other weapons on YouTube for Onward VR.

I tripped up with the PKM since it feeds from the opposite side of American machine guns, but I learned it quickly enough.

This game could give players basic knowledge about how to use weapons they have never interacted with. It might not make them experts, but it provides a base knowledge of experience.

Beyond Firearms Handling

These games have a realistic depiction of handguns, rifles, and submachine guns that certainly teach you where a charging handle is and which way to insert a magazine, but they go deeper than that.

Outside of just teaching basic firearms handling, they can get surprisingly deep into some realistic tactics.

Of course, it depends on the game, the mode, and the people you play with. Certainly, the lack of actual death occurring frees shooters from taking it too seriously, so they might do the Call of Duty sprint and get lucky. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to learn beyond basic gun handling.

Onward VR encourages taking a knee or even going prone to use cover and provides a more stable position. The machine guns have bipods, and it’s the most effective way to employ the gun. You’ll get zapped quickly if you are not checking your corners and avoiding danger zones.

Big open areas will quickly become no goes for experienced players, and you’ll stick to cover as much as possible.

There is also something to be said about acting under stress. There is some stress if you are getting shot at in the game. The game will set you up in situations where your gun clicks instead of bang while under fire, and you have to transition to your pistol or reload.

That can be stressful, especially when you are close to winning or at the top tier of Contractors’ survival mode, and dying means losing all your progress.

You must think and react appropriately. Being able to think under stress can be a very valuable skill in shooting and life in general.

VR Practical Shooting

A very small company is producing a game called VR Practical Shooting, which aims to bring a competitive shooting game to the current VR systems. It allows shooters to use very modern and popular competition guns with modern accessories and features in various competition settings.

The game even allows players to build their own courses of fire and stages. This game is purpose-built for shooters and offers a competitive home shooting experience.

It might not offer training for running and gunning, but it can help you learn to think under a timer and perform to a standard.

I’m using this specific example to simulate what a game can do. There could easily be a purpose-built training game that allows shooters to train in VR for basic marksmanship, weapon handling, and even force on force. It won’t replace real training but can supplement it.

Imagine if a company like Mantis designed a VR training game that could interact with their various systems. We’d have a useful and effective firearms training tool that’s fun and doesn’t require time at the range or ammo expenditure.

Final Thoughts

Currently, VR offers some basic firearm handling training and stress inoculation in how it’s played, but I could see it being a serious training tool in the future. Seeing how guns work and handling them in a virtual environment could be incredibly useful.

Training with shooters worldwide in a multiplayer environment could also be interesting. Depending on the cost, gun manufacturers could use VR to display their firearms and even offer virtual instruction.

These are big dreams, but I think the future could be very bright for firearm training inside of virtual reality.

What do you think of VR training?