There once was a time video games were the domain of couch potatoes.
That reputation, whether merited or otherwise, is being challenged by the opening of a new business in Bowling Green that places people within the game.
Holodeck VR is the first virtual reality arcade in Kentucky and the 14th of its kind in the country, according to Nick Lapierre, one of the arcade’s three co-owners.
Located in Cambridge Square, Holodeck VR opened last month, and offers several dozen video game options in each of its four rooms.
Lapierre and his business partner, Joey Stratton, had previously done work designing websites and mobile apps.
They were also gaming enthusiasts who became intrigued at the possibilities of virtual reality after a trip last year to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, where they saw the latest technology can offer.
“The technology is topping itself every other month,” Lapierre said.
After learning about a virtual reality arcade that opened last summer in Washington, D.C., Lapierre, Stratton and a third partner, Duane Tyler, sought to bring that experience here.
As an expression in the video game lexicon, “virtual reality” entered the popular consciousness around the late 1980s, but virtual reality gaming systems for the home have had a commercially spotty history.
Advances in technology and game development since then have made for a more stimulating virtual reality experience that has led to arcades gaining popularity in Asia and getting a toehold in the U.S.
Digi-Capital, an investment banking firm that provides financial advice to video game industry leaders, recently released a report noting that virtual reality surpassed $1 billion in U.S. revenue last year and is predicted to become a $30 billion industry by the start of the next decade.
At Holodeck, gamers put on a headset (the Vive, made by HTC) and handheld controllers and are able to select a game that offers players a room-scale experience.
Beginners can get familiar with the controls by selecting from a number of titles that are known as immersive experiences.
“Blu” is one of the featured immersive experiences that lets people get a feel for virtual reality, putting the user on the deck of a wrecked ship at the bottom of the ocean and observing their virtual surroundings.
The actual games present more physical challenges, and one of the most popular current titles is “Space Pirate Trainer,” a zap-the-aliens, dodge-the-lasers game that rewards quick reflexes and sprightly maneuvers.
“Most of our games cater to upper teens and college-age students,” Lapierre said, although Tyler, affectionately known as “Pops,” shows that you’re never too old to get into gaming.
“I come in early just to play,” said Tyler, who Lapierre describes as “probably the oldest guy” in the virtual reality arcade business. “A lot of young kids are coming in with their parents or even their grandparents and they want to know what their kids are into.”
Lapierre, Stratton and Tyler developed the concept for their business, and considered themselves fortunate to find a storefront in Cambridge Square that required minimal upfitting.
“All we had to do was slap some paint on and set up the decor,” Lapierre said. “We can build up to four more rooms.”
Tyler said a short-term goal for Holodeck VR is to franchise and open arcades in other cities.
Beyond that, the goals become more ambitious.
“What we’d like to see later on is a warehouse-size virtual reality experience, although the technology is very expensive,” Tyler said.