Virtual World offers VR for enthusiasts and neophytes alike | Technology

A rock climbing trip to a temperate, sunny ocean bay in east Asia is a wonderful escape from a Wisconsin winter, if only for an hour. Just make sure not to plummet to your death.

But if scaling rock faces in death-defying fashion isn’t your cup of tea, no worries: There are plenty of other strange, wonderful, and scary places to visit digitally at Virtual World, a new virtual reality arcade and entertainment center on Madison’s far east side.

Just strap on a ski goggle-like headset and grab some controllers, and anyone can sample from a panoply of immersive experiences: a roller coaster ride, defusing a bomb, even going under the scalpel of a deranged robot surgeon.

“You may get motion sickness from some of these,” warns Hanie Safavi, the owner of the business.

Virtual World, located on the second floor of a strip mall at 2044 S. Stoughton Road, features four cubicle-like booths tricked out with high-definition TVs, computers, and virtual reality gear. Customers can pay to use one of the booths on an hourly basis, to play video games or to just go on a virtual getaway.

Safavi said that the business isn’t specifically trying to target tech enthusiasts who know their way around an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive VR headset. Nor is it specifically for VR novices. It’s for anyone interested in having some fun.

“Everyone that comes in leaves with a smile on their face,” said Safavi.

Virtual World also offers a relatively affordable way to try out something cost-prohibitive for many people. An HTC Vive system retails for $800. An hour at a Virtual World booth, which four people at a time can use, costs $40.

Safavi said that he’s long been fond of electronics and video games, but opening up an entertainment center hasn’t always been a dream of his. The entrepreneur grew up in the Village of Oregon before attending Edgewood College to study business. He moved to Florida for a few years, eventually landing a gig as an accountant.

After a while, though, he got sick of “the 9 to 5” lifestyle. After he tried out a VR headset at a Best Buy, he hatched a game plan.

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“I wanted a job where I could hang out, have fun, and get an income at the same time. This is where that led me,” said Safavi.

One month in, and business has been slow. Safavi hopes that with some more focus on marketing, that will change.

“Madison needs to know there’s a cool place to hang out with some top-of-the-line virtual reality equipment,” he said.

Safavi said more cool toys could soon be on their way: He’s saving up for some specialized treadmills that would allow people to walk around in virtual realities,…

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