Virgin America Gaming: Not All That

The uber-slick, post-iPod experience of flying Virgin America is a winning one. I find myself tempted to not even comparison shop when flying home to California given how superior the experience is to comparably priced airlines. Deservedly, Virgin has won plaudits for everything from it’s hiply designed interiors to a streamlined check-in experience. Its media service, which allows passengers to do everything from order food or watch on-demand music videos, has also been widely praised.

However, not only is the media service still a little buggy and rough around the edges (I, for one, love seeing an airplane reboot Linux) but one of its major attractions – playing games – leaves a lot to be desired. What’s more, its uncharacteristically unhip. For an airline that “gets” cool and successfully curates relevant music and video content on routine, the gaming experience falls flat on its face.

Firstly, the selection of titles is worse than one of those dive bar, “conversation starting” game machines. Titles like Rocks’n’Diamonds, Circus Linux!, XMAHJONGG, and Vectoroids (seriously) are about as fun to play as they are to say. The splash screen of one of these, Gem Drop, proudly displays that it’s a version 0.9 software! Memo to Richard Branson: no-brand, stale Linux games do not a first rate experience make.

On the plus side, there’s the requisite DOOM port, which I’ll admit I played for a good half hour. There’s something deliciously mind-warping about playing a vintage first-person shooter at 50,000 feet. (Also, a little nauseating.) Better yet, the controller built into the arm rest is surprisingly responsive. Not only is the directional-pad malebale but the controller even has shoulder-mounted buttons that could support a wide variety of gameplay. I’m pretty confident that, should some decent software make its way onboard, Virgin’s built-in hardware could redefine airplane gaming. Here’s to hoping some upgrades are on the agenda.

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