VR Haircut Experience Is Actually A Message About American Capitalism
Find out how the strange VR styling game came to be.
With hairdressers and barbers staying home to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, quiffs are growing into mullets, pixie cuts are becoming shags, and afros are turning into, well, slightly larger afros.
People are literally protesting the quarantine because they want a haircut, but maybe what they actually need is VR and a healthy dose of reality.
Bizarre Barber, an Oculus Launchpad title, is a curious and playful haircutting adventure for all ages. Interestingly enough, however, it actually started as a cultural critique of Western ways. Players find themselves in a cartoonishly stylized post-apocalyptic world where they are tasked with quickly trimming up the wild ‘dos of colorful characters who come whizzing impatiently past. Humanity has moved underground, and there are no more comfy barber chairs left in the world. Your clientele has mutated into bizarre long-necked humans in desperate need of a haircut, and it’s your job to satisfy the disheveled masses.
The game begins with you standing between two subway trains while holding a giant pair of golden scissors that you operate using both hands. As the trains move forward, people with long flowing hair start sticking their heads out of the windows, at which point you need to start chopping as fast as you can. Each successful haircut earns you points. In addition to tangled hair, you’ll need to dodge various obstacles and catch speed boosts and power-ups; you can even earn some cash (because cash still matters, even during the apocalypse) to unlock new worlds and new tools, like sword-hands!
As the game progresses, levels become harder. You’ll eventually evolve from cutting human hair to trimming the feathers off of drunk birds and the hair from mutated cows and flying rats. Eventually you’ll make it to the boss level, where your reflexes will need to be scissor sharp in order to defeat the United Underground’s hairiest president.
Similar to VR rhythm games like Beat Saber, Bizarre Barber features a bumping soundtrack that you can dance along to as you cut that hair. It’s a physical and chaotic game, so be prepared to work up a sweat as you frantically move your arms in a giant chopping motion, all while you’re squatting, reaching, and wiggling your way through the levels.
Bizarre Barber is much more than a simple hair cutting game, however. It’s actually a response to the creators’ own immigration to America 5 years ago. When Maria Mishurenko and Gordon Cherny first arrived in NYC, they witnessed everything the city had to offer. The original hairstyles, unique people, new music, diverse food, the list goes on. They also saw pollution, the never-ending hustle, and the daily struggle to define oneself in a place with millions of souls.
On behalf of the Bizarre Barber team, Mishurenko answered a few questions for VRScout about designing the experience:
Why did you create this game?
“The game was my thesis project at the NYU Game Center, where I went to grad school for the game design degree. Bizarre Barber is also the reflection of its creators, two immigrants from post-Soviet Central Asia in American culture. When [Gordey Chernyy, my partner and Bizarre Barber co-creator, and I] first arrived four years ago, America seemed like a surreal alien planet: diverse, mysterious, ridiculous, and hard to grasp. It’s been very hard to communicate our thoughts and feelings to our new American friends (especially when we couldn’t speak any English) so art became the easiest way of communicating all those complex feelings and impressions. The game is an allegorical, artistic, visual, and narrative expression of how two immigrants perceive America, the country that eventually let many of their dreams come true.”
What do you hope players get out of playing it?
“I hope our players feel genuine fun, joy, and experience flow while playing. It’s very important to have fun, enjoyable experiences to ease the anxiety and connect with natural body movements! We also have a subtle underlying commentary on the state of American capitalism and dwindling apocalypse and I was very glad to see that many players picked it up and laughed at it.”
What was the process of creation for your team, from dreaming to distribution?
“The game was conceived as a fun experiment that was supported by IGDA and Play NYC in 2018. We quickly made and tested the prototype and liked it a lot. That summer of 2018 we also participated in the Oculus Launchpad program and decided to develop a vertical slice of the game and submit it for the funding competition. There were more than 100 participants in the program and we ended up being one of four winning teams! I then made the game my thesis project and NYU Game Design faculty guidance helped us a lot to define the scope, polish the game design ideas, and conduct the research on players. Corey Bertelsen, NYU professor, and game designer joined the team as Audio Lead and our game got amazing music and sound design.”
“Later, in summer 2019 we got into NYU Game Center incubator, a highly competitive program for experimental games, and got additional funding from them. We spent the summer working on marketing plans and finishing the game alpha version. In the fall, we partnered with VRBar in New York and started testing for an arcade and tournament version of the game. [We then spent] two recent months basically fixing bugs, doing quality assurance, signing an agreement with various business partners, preparing to release and then the release itself!”
Fun fact about the game that we don’t know?
“One of the voice actresses for Bizarre Barber is Gabrielle Mirabella, a professional opera singer! We recorded a lot of bizarre opera singing, but haven’t used it in the game yet (saving it for one of the updates!).”
Not everyone who plays Bizarre Barber will have that deeper experience, and that’s okay. Ultimately Mishurenko, Cherny, and Bertelsen just want you to have fun.
There are 13 levels to play scattered throughout 7 unique VR worlds. The game is pretty self-explanatory, therefore there are no tutorials, which makes it the perfect game for someone who is trying VR for the very first time, but it’s also challenging enough that any VR expert would have a blast playing.
Professional Stylist/Photographer Tina Pelech who has worked with multiple modeling agencies and with models from America’s Next Top Model, talked with VRScout about haircuts and Bizarre Barber saying, “This game sounds amazing, but I’d probably get exhausted from playing because you are actually exercising!” Pelech adds, “It would definitely help me release a lot of stress for those clients that never want to cut their hair. I’d be cutting it like I was Edward Scissors Hand!”
Image Credit: Synesthetic Echo