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VRKADE: Lethbridge’s Virtual Reality Arcade

Monday 27th, March 2017 / 19:14
By Mav Adecer

Go inside the game at VRKADE.
Photo: Brandon Wynnychuk

LETHBRIDGE – From the outside, VRKADE looks like a small commercial space sandwiched between an interior design store and a tattoo parlor; inside, though, are HTC Vives acting as mini-TARDISes, able to take you to the far reaches of the STEAM store.

Steven Bandola approached Jason Van Hierden about the potential of the new class of virtual reality rigs. Van Hierden was hesitant at first, but the resurgence of VR coupled with Lethbridge’s population nearing the 100,000 mark made it so that he was willing to give the old college try. They opened in early January and have launched a relentless charm offensive in the form of VR demos at the college and university, and constant prize giveaways on their Facebook page.

The actual storefront interior is pleasant enough. There’s a stylish reception area and the consoles are set up in spacious booths partitioned by curtains. That barely matters though, since the majority of the experience happens within the goggles.

At first it feels cumbersome and weird; glasses make it somewhat uncomfortable. But after a few adjustments, the extra pound on your head gets superseded by the intensity of suddenly being inside a videogame. It’s sensational, in that it actually fucks with your senses. One second I’m in the storefront, next I’m in a massive white warehouse with a Portal personality core stammering instructions, and I could feel the shift in my skin. As if the air had changed.

We played Rec Room (a Wii sports-type jawn with an assortment of games), QuiVR (a bow and arrow shoot-em-up), and I snuck in a game of Space Pirate Trainer (a laser shoot-em-up) when the other two in my party left me behind on the two-player-only Frisbee Golf in Rec Room.

The owners curated the list of games very meticulously. They wanted to pick popular games, but also wanted to make sure that it’s not just gun games. They appreciate the Code Red crowd, but they want their store to be a family establishment.

Motion is difficult for these games. Not just the motion sickness (users are advised to take 10-minute breaks every half-hour) but also the act of movement within the game is very disorienting. Since walking is obviously limited to the designated VR space, you have to “shoot” yourself in the direction you want to go, where you’re instantly show up.

Van Hierden reps the fervour of a convert saying, “It’s going to revolutionize not just games but movies and education. Med students will eventually be able to practice surgeries, police will be able to train all kinds of different scenarios-” it’s at this point that someone using the demo rig at the university crashed into the VRKADE display and unplugged the machine. Jason had to pause our chat to fix the mess. Blasting goblins with arrows is one thing, but slicing into empty air and thinking you’re doing surgery is about as horrific as, well, surgery.

Shooting robots was dank, though.

You can exit reality and enter the virtual world of VRKADE, located at 1018 3 Avenue South, between 2 and 11 pm daily.

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