Video game arcades are back – this time, with virtual reality

Teen tries out virtual reality
Max Tomlinson, a 13-year-old from Puyallup, Wash., brandishes wireless controllers as he walks a virtual plank, seemingly suspended 50 stories above street level, at the Portal VR arcade in Ballard. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Remember the days when arcades were the places where kids could play the coolest video games? No? Well, now you can get in on that experience, this time with immersive virtual reality adventures instead of Frogger and Pac-Man.

Portal, at 2601 NW Market St. in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, is the latest local addition to the genre – joining other hangouts such as Odyssey VR in Redmond and Virtual Sports in Tukwila.

“Our primary target was twentysomethings, tech workers,” said Tim Harader, a technology evangelist who founded Portal in league with his wife, Page. “But what we found is that the target market is just all over the place. Whether they’re 8 years old or 80, they’re all just blown away.”

Portal’s vibe is different from the arcade environment of the ’80s. “You won’t hear a cacophony of blaring arcade sounds here,” the establishment says on its website. “Instead, you’ll enter an atmosphere of comfortable coolness.”

Ten room-sized VR booths provide space for players to strap on HTC Vive headsets and roam through gaming environments ranging from mountain peaks to a deliciously scary “Walk the Plank” experience. Prices range from $4.99 for walking the plank (with free tryouts for VR newbies) up to $39.95 for two or more players to reserve a booth for an hour.

Side-by-side VR booths
Justin Tomlinson and his 13-year-old son, Max, practice their moves in side-by-side virtual reality booths at Portal, as seen in a wide-angle shot. The views they see through their headsets are displayed on overhead monitors for the benefit of spectators. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

When you’re not playing, you can hang out in Portal’s lounge, have a snack or a beer, and watch what others are doing in their virtual…

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