The best way to kill a zombie is to slash its neck. Guns are fine, but a knife gets the job done efficiently. You just have to wait until they get really close and then do it. So close you can hear the zombies slobbering in your ear.
I’m playing The Brookhaven Experiment, a virtual-reality game at the new That VR Joint on Smith Street. The 70-year-olds who come in don’t get to play this one because it’s too scary. I’m screaming. A zombie just crept up behind me and I managed to slice its arm off just in time. I look down and there’s a bloody limb at my feet.
Being fully immersed in a game is stranger and scarier than I thought it’d be. The goggles let you experience the world of the game from every direction. When you add the headphones, you completely lose touch with the outside world. I can faintly hear the laugh of my friends as I frantically dodge lasers. I can feel the power cord resting on my shoulder, but I have no idea which direction I’m facing or if I’m about to smash into a wall.
I can feel sweat beads forming on my forehead as I climb a never-ending chocolate mountain peppered with huge gummy bears. This is level one. I know I’m standing on a foam mat, but I feel my stomach lurch as I look down and see only clouds beneath me.
“Space and dinosaurs,” says Alan Convery, founder of That VR Joint. “They’re the two things that I’d want to see if I had a time machine or could do anything. Now I can do that.”
Convery runs a curtain-and-blinds business as well as operating the arcade. The idea is the arcade will take off and he can leave his other business behind. “I don’t care about shutters,” he says. “When somebody phones me and says, ‘Can I buy some shutters?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I suppose’. But if someone phones and says, ‘Can I do some VR?’, I’m like, ‘Yes!’”
That VR Joint may be a space dedicated to games, but it feels more like a huge, empty car park. There’s no flashing lights or machines spitting tickets, just people with computers strapped to their faces screaming and moving around like idiots. But that’s the point.
“Timezone is dead,” Convery says. “We’ll never go back to gaming the way it was. It’s mind-blowing because people believe they’re actually in the game.” He tells me about leaning on a crate in the game and falling over in real life because he believed the crate was real.
Understanding how to interact with the game is challenging in the beginning. I was throwing grenades at the menu screen before I realised you just needed to point your control at the start button. But it’s funny how quickly your mind adapts. I’m starting to feel pretty confident in my ability to hit a six against one of Warnie’s spin bowls.
Not all of the games are sport-orientated or will make you shit your pants. There’s a game called Job Simulator in which you can choose to be a sous chef, mechanic or office worker. Apparently it’s a good stress reliever but I’m getting pretty angry trying to place a goddamn cup of tea on the bench without spilling it. I’m the worst sous chef.
There’s also a “cinema”. Actually, it’s a wheelie chair in a warehouse. “But you’ve got the biggest screen in the world strapped to your face,” Convery says. The films are only about five minutes long. I watched one about zombies and another in which I was offered a child by medieval people and then hurtled through the snow, which I assume is basically Game of Thrones, but with less penises.
The technology used varies based on the activity: the cinema uses the Samsung Galaxy S7, the arcade uses the HTC Vive and the driving-simulator chair uses the Oculus Rift.
I put down my knife and gun to remove my goggles, leaving the storm drain filled with zombies behind. I’m hyper aware of my surroundings. Through the drizzle out the window I can see a factory outlet for kitchen appliances, a parking inspector and half a loaf of bread soaking in the gutter. I guess this is reality. I want to go back to the virtual one.
That VR Joint
450 Smith Street, Fitzroy
0435 800 014
Mon to Fri 12pm–12am
Sat & Sun 9am–12am