Few things in life open up one’s mind to possibilities, exploration, and creativity, like psychedelics. But what would happen if substances like psilocybin, LSD, and DMT were combined with the power of Virtual Reality? Could psychedelic VR games allow us to explore hidden worlds, wander through museums dedicated to unreality, travel the depths of dark and wondrous seas, and encounter alien life on far-off worlds and universes?
Some research, such as a study in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, suggest that psychedelic drugs and virtual reality share particular capacities. For example, both psychedelics and VR can help disrupt mental rigidity and break down certain limitations or mental constructs. Another similarity comes in the form of the “evocation of awe.” Essentially, psychedelics and virtual reality can inspire feelings of profound joy, and awe by allowing us to visualize places, concepts, and images that we would otherwise be unable to. Furthermore this study found that both recreational and therapeutic psychedelics users can benefit from the use of virtual reality during psychedelic trips.(1)
This quest to discover how virtual reality games could alter psychedelic experiences was inspired by a 2020 study published in Clinical Neuropsychiatry. In this study, researchers examined the possible synergetic effects of virtual, or augmented reality, with psychedelic-assisted therapy as a possible treatment for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), certain phobias, eating disorders, gambling addiction, anxiety, and interestingly, schizophrenia. To do this, researchers prepared a systematic review of 23 psychedelic and VR studies.(2)
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What they found was as interesting as it was astonishing. Virtual reality and psychedelic medicine were shown to significantly improve symptoms for patients with the above-mentioned conditions, and others, often at rates much higher than traditional treatment modalities. All this to say that it appears that psychedelics and VR show promise as potential new tools to combat serious mental health disorders.(2)
Other researchers, such as the authors of Virtual Reality as a Moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy, suggest that the success of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PP) hinges largely on the participant’s mindset and the therapeutic environment. To enhance these factors, researchers are exploring supplementary methods such as meditation and visualization. They propose that virtual reality could be a powerful tool to combine with PP, given its ability to induce relaxation, reduce anxiety, promote mindfulness, and even evoke mystical states. VR could help patients detach from their usual reality, alter their self-perception, and enhance sensory experiences, all of which can be therapeutic in the context of PP.(3)
These discoveries left us with a question. If psychedelics and VR can effectively help people heal, what can they do for someone who’s interested in self-exploration?
The answer was simple. Psychedelics and virtual reality create doors to the profound, open paths to the deepest reaches of the mind, and lend themselves well to enhanced creativity, and deeper understanding of the human experience.
With that in mind, here are our top ten psychedelic VR games that may support a psychedelic trip.
(Note: All of the games on this list require or are enhanced by a VR Headset)
The Top Ten Virtual Reality Games to Play on Psychedelics
Subnautica – (Energetic, Exploration, Highly Aesthetic, Can be Frightening)
Subnautica is likely one of the most visually appealing games ever created, and not just for virtual reality. From the onset, the game “has you hooked,” starting with its explosive (in this case, literally) opening cinematic, to the first few hours spent exploring the alien beauty of a distant ocean world.
There are some points of the game that can be a little frightening, such as your first encounter with Subnautica’s ocean-dwelling predators, but this can be circumvented by playing exclusively in Creator Mode.
Subnautica was, of course, not designed as a psychedelic game. Instead, it’s simply an extremely visually appealing medium that psychedelics can enhance. If your goal is to scratch that itch, we humans have for adventure and to experience the sort of underwater beauty that one can only find on an expensive snorkeling trip. Then this game is for you.
In Creator Mode, it can be used as a tool for contemplation and relaxation, allowing you to become immersed in its gentle, yet stunning underwater audio and visual sensations. This experience lends itself to experiencing multiple sensations simultaneously.
However, if you’re looking for something that pairs well with higher doses of psychedelics like psilocybin or LSD, this may not be the one for you. Some of its missions require solid analytical skills and puzzle-solving abilities that you may be lacking during the peak of a trip. Furthermore, the deeper you go into the game, the more likely you are to encounter adversarial creatures. We suggest that you either play in Creator Mode or err on the side of caution and use lower doses of your preferred psychedelic.
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No Man’s Sky – (Relaxed, Exploration, Adventure, Serene)
No Man’s Sky is one of the most interesting games to come out in the last decade, despite its initially rocky release. The game seeks to astound players with its massive scope, alien vistas, and sense of vast, cosmic freedom. One can spend hours exploring beautifully forested jungle planets with pink-to-purple gradient skies, crystal rock outcroppings, and emerald seas.
The only somewhat tense experiences may come in the form of the game’s many species of alien creatures that can decide to become aggressive if players stray a little too close for comfort. Thankfully, No Man’s Sky equips stellar adventurers with a nifty jump pack, which lets players quickly rocket their way to safety and onwards to the next adventure.
No Man’s Sky is one of those games that can be anything you dream of. However, one of its best potential uses is as a tool for immersive meditation. By this, we simply mean that you can don your headset, find an interesting vista, sit down, and allow your mind to wander. This can massively enhance the self-explorative power of a psychedelic trip by taking you out of your mundane reality, such as a living room, and transporting you to somewhere distinctly new, exciting, and visually stimulating.
Ayahuasca: Kosmik Journey – (Introspective, Intense, Guided, Meditation)
Ayahuasca: Kosmic Journey is an absolute gem. Released in 2020 from Publisher, Astrea, and directed by Jan Kounen, an experienced ayahuasca practitioner, the game is one of the most powerfully stunning experiences available in VR. Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it, Ayahuasca: Kosmik Journey has won a laundry list of awards from the Tribeca Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival to the 2019 VR Now grand prize, among many others.
The game (it’s really more of an interactive, guided ayahuasca trip than a game) takes players on a fabulously detailed journey through the depths of an ayahuasca trip. Not only are the visuals stunning, it also boasts an amazing immersive soundtrack designed to make you feel like you’ve been taken to some far-off ayahuasqueros sanctuary.
This game is likely best used as a way to experience what an ayahuasca trip may be like, without needing to take the drug itself. This could be an interesting way to see if ayahuasca is something that you would be interested in, or to decide if it’s too powerful an experience for you. The visual environment and soundscape are enough to make players feel as if they have taken a psychedelic, without the physical effects, such as purging.
It is difficult to say if the game would be useful while under the effects of ayahuasca itself, but it is certainly an expertly detailed and accurate portrayal of the experience that some psychonauts report having.
Dreams of Dali – (Introspective, Artistic, Calm, Meditative, Slightly Scary)
The Dream of Dali is brought to us by the Dali Museum. As such, it’s faithful to Dali’s works. From the start, you’re brought into a virtual museum before being transported into Dali’s “Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus’.” Paired with a soundtrack and stunning visuals, you can embark on your own, self-guided tour of the mini universe contained in one of Dali’s greatest works.
The experience is limited to a single painting, for now, but it’s well worth your time. It’s also free to play. There can be darker moments, particularly when the music begins to race towards crescendo while the camera pans across the alien landscape before settling on the unnervingly melted legs of a group of Dali’s horsemen.
Dreams of Dali is perhaps best used as a way to encourage the exploration of your inner psyche. Through its powerful visuals, and Dali’s unique artistic style, the “game” can potentiate the psychedelic experience. It could also be used as a tool to enhance one’s own artistic ability by allowing you to examine the work of an undisputed master in novel and utterly unique ways.
Museum of Other Realities – (Interactive, Artistic, Calm, Meditative)
Simply put, the Museum of Other Realities is good, clean fun. Launched in 2020 by indie studio MOR Museum Inc., the game is a joyous mix of interactive art, exploration, and out-of-this-world visual experiences. One might dive in while slightly off the peak of a psychedelic experience and have an absolute blast exploring some of the wonderful pocket realities within the game.
Each one of these virtual worlds is its own, interactive, and evolving work of art. These are paired with a great soundtrack that can make you feel like you’ve been whisked off to an interdimensional museum akin to the Meow Wolf installations across the country. Anecdotal conversations suggest that one may be able to engage with the game at most safe dosages. As always taking a smaller dose may be the best route for an initial experience. However, the game does not involve anything too intense or startling.
Like Dreams of Dali, the Museum of Other Realities naturally lends itself to self-exploration and artistic enhancement. As an artist, you may be able to take a significant amount of inspiration from the many, ever-evolving works of art contained in the game’s virtual universe. It can also be used as a tool for meditation and relaxation, as many of the virtual art galleries are relaxing, beautiful, and calming.
Beat Saber – (Fun, Recreational, Interactive, Energetic, Fun, Musical)
Ah yes, Beat Saber, an old one, but always a good one. Beat Saber has been a staple of VR gaming for nearly three years, and it’s always a good time. It’s also an experience that may be enhanced by a low dose of some psychedelics. Again, anecdotal reports suggest that experience may be best served by something akin to a museum dose or lower, as the game does require some hand-eye coordination. It is, of course, crucial to take physical and safety precautions.
The amazing soundtrack, fun, bright colors, and interactivity, pair well with psychedelics, but this is not a game to play if you’re looking to meditate on existence. Instead, Beat Saber is exactly what it’s designed to be: a relatively simple game that can be played to relax, work off nervous energy, or just immerse yourself in its ever changing and extremely fun repertoire of hit songs and tracks.
It is important to note that the game can cause some motion sickness, and should be played sitting down if you are planning on combining it with psychedelics. It is also best played away from anything that can be knocked over or broken. Beat Saber likely would not lend itself to higher doses of psychedelics as the experiences could be overstimulating and may require more coordination than you may have at the time.
Rez Infinite – (Fun, Recreational, Interactive, First Person, Shooter, Intense)
Released in 2017 by Monsters Inc., Rez Interactive is the only first-person shooter game to make our list, and for good reason. Where most FPS games focus on hyperrealistic, and often violent, shooting mechanics and visuals, Rez Interactive sprays targets with beautifully colored beams of psychedelic light.
Rez Infinite is a game that can be exhilarating but also has a chance to be overstimulating. The game itself revolves around different environments and levels where you take on a variety of targets (note that we’re not calling anything any “enemy,” instead they’re just interactive elements in the game). From the outset, each level is beautiful, strange, and sometimes haunting but not necessarily overly intense or frightening.
The visuals are stunning, and the music is expertly scored. While this game isn’t as expansive as some on this list, or as laser-focused as others, it is well worth the cost and time.
Cosmic Flow: A Relaxing VR Experience – (Chill, Relaxing, Colorful, Meditative)
Cosmic Flow: A Relaxing VR Experience was released in 2020, by what seems to be a single developer, Vedev. Not so much a game, as a visualizer, Cosmic Flow is extremely calming and is the perfect tool for getting relaxed and back into an easy flow state after several hours of more intense experiences, or if you’ve had an adverse event.
The game immerses you in gentle, meditative music and a kaleidoscopic set of visualizations. There is no real gameplay, instead, it’s simply something you do. Get comfortable, start it up, and let your mind rest as you enjoy the soft, ambient soundtrack and beautifully colored visuals.
Cosmic Flow has a place as an interesting tool for meditation, and contemplation, or a way to break free from an anxious state. The music is gentle, peaceful, and conducive to relaxation, while the visuals are colorful but not overly energetic and never disturbing. It could absolutely be used as a way to free your mind and allow it to wander the paths of your inner psyche for a few minutes or hours with little risk of overstimulation. The game is free to play, but if you really enjoy the experience, there is a paid option that helps support its creator, Vedev.
ActionpaintVR – (Interactive, Relaxing, Creative, Chill)
Initially available on Steam in 2018, ActionpaintVR is the last, but certainly not least, title on our list. It is a wonderfully fun, and deeply relaxing experience that could be used as a tool for artistic exploration and relaxation. This title could be well-suited for artistic individuals who want to create new, interesting works of art in a medium that allows you to instantly change course, undo mistakes, or alter existing work without any potential clutter or mess.
At its heart, ActionpaintVR is an easy-to-use, well-made VR painting tool. You get a wide selection of brushes, and tools that let you create your own original works of psychedelic art. We suggest listening to the Johns Hopkins Psychedelic Research Playlist while you paint through the exploration of your own psyche. This one is exactly what the title would suggest, and is as infinitely replayable as your own creativity will allow.
This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.
- Aday, J. S., Davoli, C. C., & Bloesch, E. K. (2020). Psychedelics and virtual reality: parallels and applications. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 10, 204512532094835. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125320948356
- Gómez-Busto, F. J., & Ortiz, M. I. (2020). Virtual Reality and Psychedelics for the Treatment of Psychiatric Disease: A Systematic Literature Review. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 17(6), 365–380. https://doi.org/10.36131/cnfioritieditore20200606
- Sekula, A. D., Downey, L., & Puspanathan, P. (2022). Virtual Reality as a Moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.813746