Sometimes the things we do for fun in Beirut can get pretty repetitive pretty fast. We go try out a new restaurant, or we wander around a mall we’ve visited plenty of times before. Or we go to have coffee at the nearest Starbucks. Or we see the same people we’ve known for what seems like an eternity.
That’s why Ahmad and I are always on the lookout for new fun things we can do together- and why when we found out about VRcade, a virtual reality arcade as the name suggests, we just had to give it a try.
So one Saturday afternoon, we left our regular haunts and drove up to Fanar where VRcade is located. Upon our arrival, we were met by Selim and Yara who started the place- and we could instantly tell this was a passion project of theirs. Virtual reality, as I understood from my more knowledgeable partner, is still in its early stages- so an idea like VRcade is still a costly investment.
At first glance, VRcade is unassuming.
It is one large room, with the computer setup, a television, and a couch on one side, and a massive empty space on the other. But that didn’t really matter.
Because the VR experience starts when you put on the headset and immerse yourself in whatever world you want to be in.
Now, I would like to tell you all about the technology and how things come together- but that’s not really my field of expertise. And while Ahmad did have a lengthy conversation with Selim about it, I’ll spare you all the details because you don’t need to know how it all works to enjoy it. Just ask me!
I went first, and since I have no prior experience with VR, some orientation was necessary. We started off by exploring different worlds (like under the sea and Van Gogh paintings) to get a feel of how immersive it could all be.
It was all very fascinating, though being unaware of my real-world surroundings was not very helpful and I almost walked into a real wall a few times. At one point, I also poked Selim in the eye as he was trying to help me adjust/remove the headset (I’m terribly sorry about that!)
I also struggled with operating the controllers- so when I did play something similar to Portal, I got utterly confused and couldn’t make it past the first round- though it is one of my favorite PC games.
Things did get marginally better when I tried my hand at some VR archery, but my response time and my aim were still far too slow to stop the intruders from coming in.
Ahmad fared much better- maybe because he is used to gaming, or because this was something he really wanted to try. He didn’t need any orientation and went straight into shooting spaceships and bad guys with precise aim and a huge smile on his face.
In the meantime, I took my place on the couch and watched what Ahmad was engrossed in. It was funny that the TV was displaying what he was seeing but when I looked to where he was standing, it was just him with a bulky headset on.
For the final experience of the day, I chose something that I was a bit more familiar with, though I now realize, did not fully show off VR’s capabilities. I chose to play a game similar to Guitar Hero- where you had to hit (literally in this case) the notes as they appear on the screen. And I chose to subject Ahmad, Selim, and Yara to only the finest music of the mid-2000s: Black Eyed Peas, Usher, and Akon- don’t ask me why. But it was still plenty of fun- and felt almost like dancing.
We left feeling like we finally done something new in our time off.
We agreed that not only is VR a lot of fun and doesn’t need prior knowledge or experience, but that Yara and Selim were very friendly and welcoming- and that just made our afternoon all the more delightful. They answered all of our questions and suggested a variety of games so we could get the best experience possible.
So if you’re looking for something fun and new to do, I can’t recommend VRcade enough. You can find more about their opening hours and contact information on their Facebook page.
I look forward to the next time.
Side note: A video of Ahmad and I trying out VRcade is on their Facebook page- but I have no idea how to embedded it here. So if you’re so keen, you can look for it on the link above.