I am a huge video game nerd. The affliction began when my grandma gave me a Game Boy with the officially licensed Home Alone game for Christmas in 1993. Navigating a tiny, digital Macaulay Culkin around a labyrinthe while desperately trying to prevent a tiny, digital Joe Pesci from breaking his neck was the most fun I’d ever had, and I can still hear the game’s 20 second loop of jangly music playing in my head whether I would like to or not.
I’d go on to get more advanced machines, ones capable of displaying a spectrum greater than four shades of green (old Game Boy games look like ants swarming beneath a layer of creamed spinach), which gobbled up plenty of my childhood. Unfortunately I’ve now got a lot of responsibilities, and like some kind of loser I have to do things like work and cook dinner and call my mother on Mother’s Day instead of playing video games in my bedroom all day.
When I heard about Voxel Virtual Reality Parlour, my affinity for video games meant that nothing would do until I saw it for myself. I met there with Jeff Trinh-Sy, one of the place’s owners, who showed me to my bay and gave me a cursory overview of the equipment: one big set of goggles that look like a prop from an episode of Black Mirror, and two controllers for manipulating artificial environments. With very little explanation I was in.
I found myself on the rampart of a colorful castle, with a bow in reach and a horde of silhouettes readying an invasion. I grabbed the bow, nocked an arrow while the controller vibrated to convey a feeling of tension, and sent it flying into an unfortunate barbarian’s haunches. I discovered that the torch next to me was meant to create fire arrows, and before long I was reigning hot death down on the relentless marauders. This proved excruciatingly fun.
Next I played Space Pirate Trainer, where my controllers turned into glowing pistols. (We’ll know it’s officially the future when everything glows.) I stood high up on a pedestal while little flying robots tried to kill me. Afterward came Super Hot, in which faceless assailants tried to kill me but only while I was moving. I flicked bullets out of the air with the tip of a knife, and brutalized one poor fellow by throwing a hammer into his chest. These are not things which I usually get to do.
I played a three dimensional painting game, a rhythm game with lightsabers, and then another where I followed a robotic Boston Terrier around the peak of a beautiful mountain. Finally I played Job Simulator, where I was placed behind the counter of a cheerful convenience store while people came in to buy things. There were instructions on just what I was meant to be doing there, but the objective was quickly muddied when I discovered the stash of Roman candles at my feet. This was the most enjoyable virtual reality experience I had — pretending to be a misanthropic store clerk, shooting fireworks and throwing bananas at anyone who had poor enough judgement to come into my shop.
Jeff had to close up for the evening or I’d still be there trying out more of his 30 available games. He told me about how rapidly Voxel is growing, that they’d started in St. Paul in 2016, opened another location in Minnetonka last year, and that the third’s creation looks fairly inevitable. He also explained that it’s not just children and man-children like me who are drawn to Voxel — that its accessibility and novelty has made it popular as a corporate team building exercise and for birthday excursions for celebrants of all ages as well.
The equipment needed for virtual reality is still fantastically pricey, so you’re unlikely to see it anywhere but at Voxel for quite a while. The social experience the place offers is reminiscent of an old fashioned arcade, too, with people gathering around to watch what you’re flailing your arms around for — what you see in your goggles is also shown on a monitor. Even if you only go alone for a quick few games, it’s well worth seeing what all the fuss about virtual reality is for. Visit voxelvrp.com to learn more.
By David Scheller