It’s been a common refrain among young people in the Battlefords. There is nothing to do in the community, they say, so they have to go to Saskatoon or Edmonton to have fun.
But those complaints are getting to be fewer and fewer. New facilities such as the CUplex and the new movie theatre have encouraged more people to stick around the Battlefords during their free time.
Now, you can add virtual reality gaming to the mix. Just four months ago, proprietor Tammy Peel opened up LegendzVR, a new virtual reality arcade located at 1102 - 102nd Street in North Battleford.
Peel has lived in the Battlefords for over two decades and is a mom to seven kids. Now that her kids are grown up, she was looking for something else to do.
“I realized all my kids were going to leave the house and I was going to be an empty nester with no life,” Peel said.
“For a while, I have been trying to figure out a business that I could own and run to give me some freedom … I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to do something in the community here.”
The idea of a virtual reality arcade came to her when her husband took her to Edmonton for Valentine’s Week.
They stopped at a virtual reality arcade there. Initially, she wasn’t impressed with the idea, but her tune changed once she put on a headset and started trying out the games there herself.
“Once I got in there and tried it out for a couple of hours, I knew that that was exactly what needed to come to North Battleford,” Peel said. “We need more family entertainment here, and that’s how it came to be.”
Inspired by what she had seen, she went to the bank with a business plan and found the downtown location on 102nd Street.
Describing what virtual reality gaming is like to those who aren’t familiar with it can be challenging. Those well-versed in it say it is something that needs to be experienced in order to fully appreciate what it is.
“It’s like a transportation, almost, to like a whole new level of video gaming, or just like an experience in general,” said Braeden Grove, who works at LegendzVR.
“It’s fully immersive. You feel like you’re inside of a video game. It’s a little bit hard to explain until someone actually feels it on their face and experiences how the game is actually played.”
“I like to tell people who ask me what it’s all about that once I put that headset on they’re gone to a different world,” said Peel, ”and we’ll forget about the real world until we take the headset off.”
Peel points out there is something for everyone at LegendzVR, including grandparents and people with disabilities. There is also a wide range of games and experiences on offer.
It is not just “killing zombies” – they also have art apps, said Peel, where “you can walk into a Van Gogh painting that’s been brought to life, and experience his emotions that he had when he painted that painting.”
The games and VR experiences can be tailored for all levels of players from novices to experienced competitors. One game they like to put beginners into for the first time is “Richie’s Plank Experience.”
“It’s so real you feel it in your gut,” said Peel. In that game you go into an elevator and go up 60 stories in the air, and must walk a plank to pick up the jet packs they need in order to fly around the city.
For participants it actually feels like you are flying through the air across the city – even though in reality there is an entire floor underneath you.
“It’s like your brain’s been hacked, and it feels very real,” said Peel.
For those who liked shooting at space invaders back in the old arcade days, there is “Space Pirate Trainer” where you fend off little robots and space invaders that are attacking you.
A top game is “Arizona Sunshine,” a multi-player game where participants work together to shoot at wave after wave of zombies.
Also popular is Beat Saber. Grove describes it as a rhythm game where you swing swords at the blocks that are beats to the song and cut them in the right direction.
In all, the business is sort of an updated 21st-Century version of the classic “video arcades” that Gen-Xers used to frequent in the early 1980s.
For those nostalgic for the old days, LegendzVR includes a classic video arcade section featuring games from that era including Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Centipede and other classics.
Those games were groundbreaking back in the day, but seem quaint now compared to the virtual reality games on offer, which seem destined to become classics in their own right.
In all, people at LegendzVR are excited about being on the ground floor of something exploding in interest.
“It’s definitely the future of a lot of entertainment, I think,” Grove said.
For Peel, the business offers something new and different that helps provide local families with the answer to the question of how they can find something close to home, instead of always hitting the road for the big cities.
“I raised my kids here, and we were the family that had to go to Saskatoon or Edmonton or Regina,” said Peel.
“The thought that I needed to do something for the families came when I realized that my kids who are now parents are doing the same thing. We do have a very nice swimming facility, we have a brand new theatre, we’ve got the bowling alley, but there’s no reason to stop there and we can’t continue growing.”