I’m on an elevator, patiently waiting for it to take it to the top floor. When the doors open, I’m facing the open air, surrounded by nearby buildings, a busy street far below. The only thing in front of me is a narrow plank.
The VR experience is realistic enough that there was no way I was taking a step onto that plank, even though I know I’m in a 10 foot by 10 foot booth, tethered to a track on the ceiling.
“Let’s switch it,” says Emmanuel Rosembert, owner on Ctrl V in Bear, the state’s only virtual reality arcade, as the demo changes gears.
In moments, I’m in much more of my comfort zone: Google Earth, where I explore a small town near Mount Fuji in Japan and hop in and out of street views in Manhattan. I resist the urge to make a VR trip to the most popular destination on the app — one’s own address.
While Google Earth is a popular VR platform, most of the people who go to Ctrl V spend their one-hour block playing games like Creed: Rise to Glory, Elven Assassin and Blaston.
Rosembert launched Ctrl V Bear on Sept. 19, 2020. He hadn’t intended to open the arcade — one of the few U.S. franchise locations of the Waterloo, Canada-based chain — during a pandemic. But as it turns out, the layout of Ctrl V, with players separated in their own stations even when playing together, is unintentionally COVID-friendly. The company’s website even boasts that it offered “social distancing before it was cool.”
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” Rosembert said. He decided to go with a franchise instead of starting from scratch. “It was a struggle to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do another McDonald’s or Starbucks. Delaware has enough of those. I have a masters in IT, so I’m pretty tech savvy, I love video games, love interacting with people, so this was a good fit — and it’s up and coming.”
Ctrl V headquarters is ordinarily very hands-on when it comes to helping franchisees get off the ground, but with COVID, all of that help had to be virtual. The company helped Rosembert, who lives in Smyrna, through the process of finding the 4,000-square-foot space. He looked in different areas on New Castle County, but settled on the cost-effective Bear location, which is easily accessible from New Castle, Newark and Wilmington.
It’s the only VR arcade in Delaware, if not the first. Rehoboth had one, a competitor company, that closed down.
If you go, you’ll want to book a time online in advance to avoid a potentially long wait. If it’s your first time, you’ll watch a five-minute primer video with safety tips and instructions on how to use the controls and join games. Then you just find your name on one of the TVs at one of the 16 stations, remove your shoes and strap in.
The tech, HTC VIVO Pro devices, is always tethered to the station.
“The reason for that is because you have to keep them kind of tethered to reality, otherwise they’ll be out on Route 40 shooting zombies,” said Rosembert.
Players can play by themselves, but they can also play together, one on one, two on two, or even eight on eight, with every station connected to the same game.
“That’s when it can get loud in here,” he said.
For now, the arcade is open Thursdays through Sundays, though he hopes to open more days eventually. Stations are booked in one hour blocks at $26 per person, with discounts available, including group rates for parties of four or more and a birthday party room in the back, which Rosenbert says has been booked often.
Those unsure if they want to commit to a full hour can book a free 10-minute demo when stations are available.
“This is for anybody aged 7 and up,” he said. “We’ve gotten retired folks in their 90s, and a lot of parents bring their kids looking for something safe to do. We hook a lot of people who come here, so it’s just a matter of people knowing we’re here.”
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