SOUTH SCOTLAND’S first-ever virtual reality (VR) arcade has opened its doors in Dumfries.
And where the arcades of yesteryear had Pac-Man, coin pushers and dodgems, the VR Room offers immersive games such as ‘Mine Exploration’, ‘Sea pursuit’, ‘Hell Escape’, and scores of other titles, experienced through state-of-the-art VR goggles, vibrating chairs and surround sound.
Stepping into the arcade at 109 Queensberry Street this week, I was greeted enthusiastically by owner Lassaad Sbita, who insisted I jump on the machines right away.
Mindful of my susceptibility to motion sickness, I nervously pulled on the headset and began my adventure.
First I entered the ‘Job Simulator’, a game set hundreds of years in the future when the notion of office working has become so novel that the player is tasked with completing mundane day-to-day tasks at their desk.
Having found my bearings in the the virtual office, I then tried-out ‘Exoplanet’, embarking on a deep-space journey to planets, stars and nebulae outside of the solar system. By the time I returned to Earth, the potential of virtual reality technology – and an arcade dedicated to it – was becoming clear.
Next, I went on an educational rollercoaster ride through the human body, learning about the circulatory system, blood cells and viruses, before boarding a traditional rollercoaster in what can only be described as a Siberian theme park.
Finally, I tried out ‘Hell Escape’. Suffice to say, this one isn’t for the faint hearted. Slightly dizzy, I sat down with Lassaad to talk about his new venture and how business has been since opening last month.
“People are really happy and excited, people have said thanks for bringing this new technology to Dumfries,” he said. “We looked around and most of the other arcades do VR game simulators, not like the machines here. With these machines, you feel like you are inside the game and that’s what we’ve gone for – something different.
“Sometimes if people are passing by we’ll give them a shot for free to try and see. Most people don’t know about VR, especially older people, so we tell them exactly what it’s about and the technology and they think that’s the future.”
Earlier this year, the dad-of-four ditched running a local takeaway to put his chips in the new arcade.
Lassaad continued: “With the takeaway, the income is quick but you have to give more time, more hours. With this place now it’s good for time, to be with my family – it’s only open in the daytime.
“But we need more time to advertise to bring people in. With food, everybody eats – you have to eat – but this one, you have to push to people to bring them and try new things.”
He added that social media had been a key tool in promoting the VR Room.
“When I started the Facebook page one month ago it was at 200 likes,” he said, “and now we’re at 1000. So people talk about it, tag each other and share as well.”
On opening the business at the tail end of a pandemic, he added: “I think it’s both a good time and a bad time because people want to come and have their lives back but sometimes I think it’s a bad time because people still don’t want to come to an enclosed place as some are still scared of Coronavirus. But I think if you see it, it’s good – new places, new generation of gaming and new technology.”
Lassaad joked that his children, who he was first introduced to VR headsets by, “want to be here every day,” adding: “But I want to keep them away a little bit.”
“I want them to play football, to play in the garden, go swimming – lots of different things,” he said. “I bring them two or three times a week to try different games and they tell me what they’re all about –theres about 180 in total.”
*The VR Room is now open at 109 Queensberry Street, Dumfries. Visit www.facebook.com/DumfriesVRrOOm for information on booking and prices.