Mark, My Words: why I can’t wait for virtual reality festivals (Reading Player One, if you will)

Our columnist Mark Beaumont, up to his neck in mud and long past remembering his A-Level results, is ready to go full VR on August's big bank holiday bash...

We’re already living in a quasi-virtual world. Politics, news, Twitter bots, car accident cold callers, Tinder profiles, Michael Jackson songs; so much in the modern world is fake that I for one am looking forward to going full San Junipero. At least in a virtual world you know for sure that nothing is real. Last week I slipped on my own personal Playstation VR headset for the first time and found myself stalking round the gunmetal hallways of The Persistence’s procedurally-generated space station stealthing space zombies, mildly terrified by finding myself inside fucking Dead Space but otherwise surprisingly zen. There are no Trump Tweets in here, no Corbyn slurs or Bastille singles. Thameslink cannot rile me here, nor Pete Doherty’s breakfast revile me. Brexit, climate change, terrorism and James Corden are things that happen in another world I know nothing of. It’s like being Hayley Hughes.


In virtual reality, nothing is there to annoy, pester, con or politically confuse me. Everything is there to entertain – even the stuff trying to kill me. So midway through my umpteenth Reading Festival, from where I write, I’d happily leave it all behind and spend all future August bank holidays in Reading Player One. Imagine the possibilities of a virtual R&L. A force field-cum-piss umbrella you could upgrade into an inflammable tent. Audio headphones you could simply take off during Florence & The Machine. An option to ‘blank out’ all the 16-year-olds going for an A* in post-exam rutting and believe that you and the other seven surviving veterans of Mudhoney ’92 have got the place to yourselves.

“Midway through my umpteenth Reading Festival, from where I write, I’d happily leave it all behind and spend all future August bank holidays in Reading Player One”

You could even have Junipero-like options of which R&L era to live out. If you’re down with pop music getting its bejewelled claws into Reading ’18, click the ‘new game’ option. If you pine for the days when it was all Uriah Heep, Queensryche and Zodiac Mindwarp round here, head for the early ‘80s log-in screen. Spend another weekend at your own GCSE dream festival – be it Arctic Monkeys destroying 2005, The Strokes stealing 2002 or The Darkness ruining 2004 – at the waggle of a thumbstick. Enter ‘survival mode’ by revisiting The Stone Roses set from 1996, head to 2004 to have a go at the Hit 50 Cent With A Deckchair mini-game, or return to 2010 to replay the bridge tournament you won while waiting for Guns’N’Roses to come on.

It would also solve the ongoing stand-off between the new pop generation and the Oasis diehards of 2000. Without getting into the knotty details of whether the music was better then (having been to both, it clearly was, and 2000 was a shit year), I’d want to take a virtual trip further back, to ’97 or ’98, in the hope that I’d find a separate secret map called The Ramada. That was the name of the hotel where all the bands, and NME staff, would stay in the days before everyone had to run off to Leeds the next day. For three nights a year, this was the music industry’s very own Sodom And Gomorrah, a fuzzy swirl of indie rock freaks, frightened staff and horrified double-booked wedding parties. Here, in my experience, you couldn’t quietly hum a tune in a corner without Chris McCormack from Three Colours Red knee-sliding across the bar to turn it into a rousing sing-along, and you had to keep your wits about you, lest you be press-ganged onto a tourbus by Ash as a last-minute tour mascot.

The mini-games here would be nefarious indeed, largely involving keeping your room party going through the annual fire drill, and dodging the drug dogs that were released across the bar every Saturday night to reach reception and try to put your bar tab on Graham Coxon’s room. Let’s just hope, when virtual Reading arrives, they include an auto-tune setting for Ian Brown…