Virtual reality has gone from a futuristic idea to, well, a reality within the last few years. And now, it’s coming to Frederick.
Shantay DeMar opened his venue @VR on the Golden Mile this past Black Friday. The location has nine stations where customers can experience virtual reality through the Vibe Pro headset. About 50 games are available to play, many of which incorporate handheld controllers and even vests that let the player feel the impacts they would in the actual game.
Virtual reality is different from other video games because the player actually feels immersed in the game itself. Instead of simply watching a screen, their entire field of vision becomes the game.
“It’s like you’re in it. I like the feeling of the immersement,” DeMar said.
DeMar has been interested in virtual reality ever since he saw the movie “Ready Player One,” which largely takes place in a virtual reality world to which people in an apocalyptic Earth escape.
“I was watching that one day and thought it was real interesting that folks were not wanting to live in their reality, and instead living in virtual reality,” he said. “So that got me curious. What does that technology do? How are they using things like that?”
DeMar started researching if there were any other places in the area where he could experience virtual reality. He found two in D.C., and visited both. While he liked the experience, he thought they were too niche: one had a 21 and up focus, while the other only had escape room games.
He wanted to create a place where families and friends could try virtual reality in a relaxed and friendly environment. After visiting another venue during a family trip to Atlanta, he used what he did and didn’t like about each location to create his own venue.
DeMar put a lot of thought into his design. Most people haven’t experienced virtual reality, and there’s a learning curve to playing games with the headset. He wanted to make learning as easy as possible.
Each station, in addition to the headset which the player will wear over their eyes, has a small TV which the staff can use to see what is going on inside the game. The stations also have a bigger TV where friends and family who are not wearing the headset can see the game, too.
This way, DeMar’s staff can help the player if they get stuck or are confused about what to do next.
Each player also stands on a mat, which will help orient them and ensure that they don’t get too close to the wall or wander away. The staff can also help the players choose a game or switch to another one. While going into virtual reality can be disorienting, so can coming out of it.
“Some folks might be intimidated and just stay in one game because they’re fearful of coming out of the game,” DeMar said.
The games available range from first person shooters to puzzle games. Some are more destination-focused and allow the player to explore a place in the world, like the Alps.
He said that young kids can definitely play the games, and there’s no age limit either.
“It’s a lot, it’s something for everyone,” DeMar said. “It’s pretty user-friendly.”
The shop is located on Willowdale Drive off of Route 40. DeMar grew up in Frederick, on the Golden Mile. While he initially looked at a space on Route 26, he was pleased with the space he found on Route 40 instead.
“It was funny because a lot of folks were saying, ‘You don’t want to be out on 40,’ and all that. I was like, ‘What’s wrong with 40?’”
DeMar believes that most of his traffic will be through social media, internet and word of mouth, so he isn’t as concerned about being in a prime location where people will stumble upon him accidentally. The Golden Mile Alliance also helped him with grants for his signage.
“I’m looking for that dedicated ongoing customer, once they come in they refer it to other folks and it grows that way,” DeMar said.
Virtual reality has only been in the public sphere for a few years, and DeMar thinks it can only grow from here.
“I think we’re really on the cusp of it. Businesses are trying to introduce it into training as well and even dealerships,” DeMar said. “If the car’s not there, you can put the headset on and go inside the car.”
Realtors and interior designers have begun using virtual reality to show their clients what a space could look like. It’s even been used in pain management for patients with severe conditions and illnesses. Some museums have made their physical exhibits accessible through virtual reality as well.
Ultimately, DeMar is excited to bring a new expereince to Frederick.
“I know it’s something new to the area, I’m kind of the only one doing this here,” he said. “So I’m really anxious to see folks’ expressions and their reactions.”