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Virtual Reality: Dreams in Digital

Following Facebook’s announcement that it had rebranded as Meta to dive into the online world of the Metaverse last year, many misconceptions have emerged surrounding the current experience of virtual reality in the 21st Century.

But with multiple options to try out the newest technology yourself, in-person, right here in West Michigan, there’s never been a better time to expand your horizons into another dimension.

“People seem to think that VR is only games and only for kids,” Greg Wander, owner, president, and manager at Amped Virtual Reality in Grand Rapids, told Review. “Many times adult women won’t even try it, but when they do, they end up laughing and having a great time. The mothers who end up participating with their families never regret it.”

Offering around 40 different experiences, Amped has become the go-to destination for VR in Grand Rapids. Opened in 2019, the company has many familiar games like “Beat Saber,” “Fruit Ninja” and “Spider-Man,” as well as newer options like “BBC Home,” “Nevrosa: Escape,” and “Kitten’D. ”

“We have many experiences that appeal to adults, like going under the ocean to be with various sea creatures, going on a spacewalk, being in a virtual escape room, creating 3D art by drawing with light, mountain climbing, reliving going to the moon , and tours of cultural locations,” Wander said.

Part of the Amped experience includes their Haptics Vests, which allow players to actually feel the games and experiences, similar to how VR was depicted in the 2018 movie “Ready Player One.”

“VR is a great new, unique experience when adults are looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night,” Wander said. “Amped Reality is a great place to come because people can do so many things together with their friends in one place: roller coasters, scary experiences, escape rooms, shooting games, and more.”

Celebrating the social aspects of virtual reality, Amped welcomes big groups, including company outings, team building, bachelor/bachelorette parties, birthdays, school groups and more.

“Last year, we started offering scary experiences during Halloween and people loved it,” Wander said. “We are less expensive than a Haunted House, and visits can be scheduled so customers don’t have to wait in line. Also, people don’t have to worry about being touched. Our most well-known scary attraction is the ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ series of games, but we have others that have literally made people scream, too.”

Over the summer Amped also offered STEM summer camps and community education, bringing kids in for VR, as well as teaching them about 3D printing, robotics and some coding.

A hands-on experience from start to finish, the staff at Amped wants people of all ages and experience levels to know that they’re there every step of the way to make their VR experience as fun and enjoyable as possible.

“With VR, it’s one thing when you see it on videos, but it’s completely different once you have the headset on,” Wander said.

Back in July, the latest VR location, Zero Latency, opened in Holland. Part of the larger Zero Latency worldwide company, the Holland location is the only Free Roam Virtual Reality Center in Michigan.

“What Free Roam means is that we have a 2000-square-foot arena where you are going in with a pack, and your visor, headphones, and a controller, and then you get to roam, just like it says,” Alex Brock , operations manager at Zero Latency Holland, said. “You get to walk around that space, untethered, and you’re open to that arena, and open to that world that you’re walking into in the VR space.”

Able to see other players in the game, the experience includes proximity sensors if participants get too close to walls or each other, as the game helps guide them to the next level of full VR immersion.

“When you think VR, what comes to mind is Oculus, or now it’s Meta Quest,” Brock said. “So that’s your typical at-home VR experience. You’re either tethered to a gaming console or a computer, or you’re in a small square. So even though the VR experience with those is really cool and a lot of fun, the immersion is not what we want it to be. It’s not quite as deep as we want. So Free Roam VR is taking that a step further.”

Currently Zero Latency Holland has seven of the eight titles Zero Latency worldwide has available, including popular games like “Undead Arena” and “Far Cry VR.”

In addition the center has virtual mini golf, as well as its own 401cr full-motion racing simulator.

“These are used for racing teams,” Brock said of the hyper-realistic experience of the simulators. “They use them to train their drivers because there’s less maintenance cost than driving a full-on vehicle around a track.”

Offering both grand prix and off-road racing titles, and working on developing a roller coaster simulator and other experiences, the simulators are one-of-a-kind experiences only available there.

Zero Latency does have a policy that players be 12 and up, with minors needing to be accompanied by an adult for safety, but they’re excited to share their new and unique experiences with everyone heading into the fall and winter, with racing leagues, memberships, and other options adding to the community aspects of the VR experience.

“We have a wide range of people coming in, and everyone is walking out of there with a big grin on their face and the thought of, ‘What did I just experience, that was amazing,’” Brock said. “It’s just such an incredible thing that it’s hard to truly explain unless you experience it yourself.”

Amped Virtual Reality

2923 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids, ampedrealityvr.com, (616) 608-5508

Zero Latency Holland

2522 Van Ommen Dr., Holland, zerolatencyholland.com, (616) 298-8831

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