If you thought video game arcades were a thing of the past, think again. They’re not dead, just evolving. And one of the arcades of the future opened last month in Lansing. It’s called Gamma VR Lounge.
Rather than consoles with joysticks, the games you play in this arcade are virtual reality games where you put on goggles and "transport" into the game.
And if you think it’s a fad appealing primarily to hipsters or male high school students who want to shoot at charging zombies, think again — today's virtual reality is different.
Gamma VR Lounge is using it to provide entertainment for all ages. Nadeem Kahn, who immigrated to the Chicago area from Pakistan in the 1990s, owns the new Gamma VR Lounge, which is attached to another business of his where phones and tablets are fixed.
He knows a thing or two about technology, but it was his son, Nabbil, who introduced him to the concept on a trip to Malaysia where they visited a VR lounge.
Nabbil runs the VR lounge day-to-day operations, and the family has plans to expand to add more upgraded equipment, more playing stations, hold tournaments — and even do educational training sessions for universities to adapt virtual reality into their curriculum. Lansing’s Gamma VR Lounge is the second location. They also opened a gaming lounge in Joliet in October.
While some people may have tried virtual reality on home systems, Nabbil said there is a world of difference in the experience of their high-tech, multiplayer virtual reality set-up compared to a single-player home set.
The lounge currently has four side-by-side stations with room to expand; the Joliet location has eight stations. Another difference in visiting a VR lounge to play games versus sitting on a couch playing is that there’s a lot of physical movement involved in playing at the lounge.
With more than 200 virtual reality games and applications available, Nabbil said there really is something for everyone.
There are no age restrictions, but he recommends it for ages 4 and up and said they maintain a family-friendly environment. There are storybook games for younger visitors, like The Little Prince, where kids can join the world of this well-known storybook character. There are racing games, flight simulators, archery, boxing and much more.
And yes — if going after zombies is your thing, you can do that, too.
'Everyone' is their target demographic
Several options are more of an experience than a game where you are playing an opponent. A game called Richie’s Plank Experience takes you to the tops of tall buildings where you truly feel like you’re stepping to the edge of a skyscraper. There’s also a virtual haunted house. And this form of entertainment allows you to do things you can’t in any other format.
“We had someone come in who was disabled and asked us to let him do something he could never do in real life,” Nabbil said.
“We took him to the top of Mt. Everest and all these different places, and he was amazed that it took him somewhere he wouldn’t be able to go in real life.”
Nabbil said he’s had a grandmother who visited their Joliet location with her grandkids who has come back on her own, because she enjoyed it so much.
“When people ask us our target demographic, there really isn’t one. We have something for everyone with over 200 games and experiences. So even for someone who never thinks about video games at all, there are things for them, too,” he said.
There are several different genres of games, and you can find a game listing at gammvr.com.
“Every genre has some games that are the hottest. When it comes to exploration applications, there's one called Google Earth VR that is popular. Most of us are familiar with the Google street view, but Google Earth did something really phenomenal, Nabbil said.
"They took the Google Earth application, and you can see the whole globe in virtual reality. You can go anywhere in the world, and it takes you to a 360 (degree) street-view mode.
"You point where you want to go — and it takes you there. We’ve had people here who were in tears who hadn’t been back to Greece in 20 or 30 or 40 years, and they’re in tears walking the streets and telling their kids, ‘This is where I grew up.’ ”
Myriad creative applications
In this vein, virtual reality is emerging as a useful tool in a variety of platforms. Surgeons are using it to practice doing surgery. Physicians are using it as a tool to help patients stop smoking. Individuals are using it for virtual meditation to take their mind to more relaxed state. Big companies are using it as a training tool for employees.
Nabbil said they took care in designing the VR lounge space to make sure the computers were up above and out of sight, so users don’t feel intimidated.
“We don’t want people to be worried or scared that they’re not good with computers or they’re not completely comfortable with their smart phones, so this new technology is not for them,” Nabbil said.
“We made this in such a manner where all the technicalities are all taken care of and they’re all above and you don’t even see them. At eye-level, we just want you to see a headset and a big beautiful display, and we’ll walk you through the motions and get you familiar with it.”
It’s also meant to be a community, where guests can play with, or against, others, or sit back and watch players and be able to see on the 105-inch screen the same thing that the player sees inside the headset.
“You can be just as immersed as the person playing,” Nabbil said.
Pricing is structured, so you can purchase a block of playing time and share that time with others, so a pair can come together and take turns in a station and split the cost.
Some of the games also have the capability of allowing others to join in. So you might have two people playing a game side by side and someone from across the world might be joining in to help you save a kingdom or slay a dragon.
“The whole concept is having a facility where you can, as a community, see the latest that virtual reality has to offer,” Nabbil said.
“It’s way too expensive to do that on a personal level, but having the facility to do that where you can have the multiplayer experience, it’s worth it.”
Nadeem encourages skeptics to give it a try. “You really need to try it and get the experience to understand it,” he said. First-timers are invited to stop in for a brief demonstration and trial."