It's time for the rise of the VRCade
It's a VRy exciting idea
I'm standing in the dark as a zombie slinks towards me on a chain, all teeth and spittle, snarling as she approaches.
But this isn't a video game: the zombie, and the panicked scientists hurrying us from the room as an emergency siren sounds, are all paid performers, although you wouldn’t know it to look at them caked in dirt, rotting flesh, and blood.
I'm at Virtually Dead, a live action event created by Noma Labs working in partnership with HTC as a framing device to showcase the company's Vive headset. It's a cracking piece of live theatre placed around the act of playing Arizona Sunshine for five minutes, showing the potential of virtual reality in live spaces.
Using virtual reality as the lynchpin of your live event is definitely one way to give people a unique experience and that's what VR is supposed to be about.
The success of the event - it sold out for pretty much its entire run and many additional shows - opens the way for more pop-up events like Virtually Dead, but also shows there’s a need for a more permanent place to piss around with VR, with plenty of space for Room-scale but also booths for more meditative experiences.
It doesn't even need to have zombies on chains! The virtual reality is a massive draw just by itself. A room to experiment with Tiltbrush or perhaps an office cubicle mocked up to look like Job Simulator's depressing office.
If you live in London, room-scale offers a real problem: most of us simply don't have enough space. Poky flats replace spacious american living rooms, and space is at a premium.
Factor in the prohibitive pricing of both a high end PC and a shiny new Virtual Reality headset, and Londoners without much disposable income might find themselves simply priced out.
In my head I have a strong visual idea of how it would go: you pay to enter for a specific time. “You have two hours in the VRCade, enjoy!” the cashier would say as she sends you off into bright open space divided up into room-sized chunks.
Stewards would help you get the headsets on and off and help you get to grips with your game, helping you grasp the point of the various VR games littering the place.
Want to drive a truck? Why not hop into the cab of an 18 wheeler, an Oculus Rift handing from the roof of the cab as you enter.
A VRCade would take what works about an arcade: rad looking cabinets, an “ideal” gaming experience and a safe public space to enjoy games, and pairs it with new technology.
The concept of the arcade died out in the first place because they couldn't offer anything that wasn't available at home anymore, but if a new set of spaces was set up to capitalise on how hard it is to actually enjoy virtual reality in the comfort of your home, we could be seeing the birth of the VRCade sooner rather than later.