The popularity of VR has been increasing with each passing year as more free games are released and headsets like the Oculus Rift become more affordable. So, I decided I wanted to try my hand at virtual reality to see what it was all about. When I walked into virtual reality gaming business Lost Inside a few weeks ago and told them that I really wanted to try zombie game The Brookhaven Experiment, owner Rod Nakama and employee Reece Bonilla exchanged a look.
OK, Nakama said, I could try the demo version they had available, but they wanted to warn me that some people find it – he paused as he tried to find the right words – a little intense.
I balked at the suggestion. I’d always loved shooting games, and I am a die-hard fan of The Walking Dead. Surely this would be no problem for me.
It turns out I was wrong. I don’t think I lasted two minutes.
As soon as I put on the headset, I wasn’t in Lost Inside’s small, bright room in Kaimuki anymore; I was transported to a dim forest with dilapidated buildings in the background. I heard a low growl and then a tall, bloody creature staggered toward me. With one controller acting as a flashlight in my left hand, and another as a gun in my right, I successfully made it through the first round by shooting one zombie. But in the next round, there were four coming at me from the front, and I heard more from behind. I turned in circles, trying to shoot at them, but they kept charging, getting closer. I wasn’t watching this happen to some video game character, it felt like it was all really happening to me.
I screamed and tore off the headset.
As soon as I did and found myself, of course, safely in the room, I was a little embarrassed. But Nakama understood. VR is supposed to feel real. That is the appeal.
“It’s about immersion,” Nakama says. “I guess the reason why people watch movies, play games, read books, it’s about getting into another place, escaping reality even for a little bit. That is what VR does.”
Lost Inside, which Nakama co-owns with Jim Shigemoto, Lynn Shigemoto, Craig Tamura and Kelli Tamura – all of whom are also business partners at T-Shirt Lab – opened last month. It’s comprised of two stations with HTC Vive headsets and controllers, and so far, game options include puzzles, shooters, a job simulator and more. They also have a set of demo games – like The Brookhaven Experiment – that they can pull from, and are in the process of licensing additional options.
The day that Metro staffers Nicole Kato, Jaimie Kim and I visited, we also sampled games that included theBlu, a relaxing immersive experience that lets you wander through various underwater settings, and Space Pirate Trainer, where you shoot robots while dodging the lasers they beam at you. All of them felt more like experiences than games – like you were actually there.
It was that sense of authenticity that struck Nakama when he first heard about an early iteration of VR in the ‘90s.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a space pirate, I wanted to fly a spaceship, battle monsters and zombies,” Nakama says. “I guess some things you kind of don’t grow out of, yeah?”
Other than transporting people into a different world, another impetus for the co-owners to start Lost Inside was that they hope they can eventually utilize VR technology as a way to help people.
“Beyond (games), imagine education, how kids are going to learn now,” Nakama says. “Imagine if there is a VR version of the Battle of Gettysburg.
“People who are wheel-chair bound could feel like they are moving again,” he continues. “Elderly people who just don’t move around much anymore … with this, I think they can get more active again.”
Currently, VR is having a bit of a moment. The inception of Vive and Oculus Rift are huge strides in the technology – many are calling 2016 “the year of VR.” There is, though, some speculation whether this will really be a takeoff point for the technology, or if it will be another false start. To me, after trying it out at Lost Inside, it feels big.
“We feel like this is the beginning of something – whether it becomes big or it fizzles out, no one really knows, but it’s exciting to think about the potential.
“This is first generation, so when you see it, the graphics are not there yet, but in three or four generations from now, I think there will become a time when you won’t be able to tell virtual from real.”
Lost Inside is located at 1137 11th Ave. on the second floor. Look for the blue door next to Himalayan Kitchen. For more information, visit lostinsidevr.com.