POCATELLO — A new business that specializes in providing experiences that are out of this world recently opened in downtown Pocatello.
Gamechanger VR, a virtual reality gaming arcade, officially opened at its 1334 N. Main St. location on Oct. 15, and according to owner Joni Kuhlman, it will provide an array of VR experiences at an affordable cost.
“I love VR, even though I am not much of a gamer,” Kuhlman said. “If you’re having a bad day or are burned out on the everyday stuff, it’s a ton of fun to immerse yourself in a different world.”
Kuhlman opened Gamechanger VR with her daughter, Amber Kuhlman-Thielman, and son, Caleb Kuhlman. With Amber handling the marketing and outreach, Caleb can focus on manning the arcade, which is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Different than other VR arcades to have open and closed in the Gate City area in recent months, Caleb says Gamechanger VR uses equipment that is not connected to a console or computer via wires.
“Most of the VR arcades utilize a system that is wired to a computer, which we believe is just too constricting,” Caleb said. “With our wireless systems, you can play any way you want, standing up or sitting down.”
Unlike traditional gaming experiences, such as computer, console or arcade games, which typically involve players watching a screen and manipulating the content on the screen with buttons or a controller, VR systems involve computer-generated simulations of 3-D images or environments that players can interact with in a seemingly real or physical way.
In most cases, VR players manipulate their virtual world using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.
At Gamechanger VR, two different systems are available, the Oculus Quest and the Vive Focus, both of which utilize a helmet with a built-in screen that covers the player’s eyes and a handheld controller. The Quest features two handheld controllers, one for each hand, equipped with several different buttons. The Focus features one handheld controller with just three buttons.
In total, Gamechanger VR offers 10 VR systems — six Quests and four Focuses.
“We have the Oculus Quest, which is the first wireless system from the Oculus brand,” Caleb said. “We also have the Vive Focus, which provides the same immersive experiences for people who aren’t as accustomed to the many controls of the Oculus system. The Quest uses two controllers with several different buttons and the Focus uses just one controller with only three buttons. The Focus is much easier to navigate for some people.”
Both the Quest and the Focus each boast their own built-in libraries that communicate with a digital library of apps and games on a smartphone application, Caleb said.
“We will supply all of the games for people to access,” Caleb said. “Currently, we have about 35 different titles. We are constantly updating our library because we know everyone loves a different gaming experience.”
In addition to several puzzle and shooter games, Gamechanger VR patrons can also enjoy the ever-popular Beat Saber, a rhythm game developed and published by Beat Games, which features the player slashing blocks representing musical beats with a pair of red and blue lightsabers and takes place in a surrealistic neon-noir environment. Another virtual experience available at Gamechanger VR is an immersive National Geographic VR app, which puts users into the heart of various outdoor adventures shot with 360-degree cameras.
Currently, each VR system at Gamechanger provides an independent experience for the user and does not support multiplayer functionality. This means the systems do not provide the ability for multiple players to play against or with each other in the same game or virtual setting. Multiple people can play the games independently at the same time, but cannot link their games up with other VR systems.
“We do eventually want to provide that service, but it is not in the budget right now,” Caleb said. “But say you owned your own Oculus or Vive and you want to bring your system in to link up with the games on our systems, that is totally OK.”
Gamechanger is open to anyone age 8 and older and youths age 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult or guardian, Joni said.
The cost to use the VR systems at Gamechanger is $10 per hour or $16 for two hours, Caleb said. A punch pass with four two-hour sessions is available for $50 and a family pass with 16 one-hour sessions is available for $60.
Furthermore, Gamechanger is open for party reservations at a cost of $150 with a $75 dollar deposit. Party reservations include all 10 headsets for two hours and two three-topping large pizzas. Cake and ice cream are not provided, but Gamechanger does have an on-site sink, fridge and freezer, according to its website, partygamechanger.com.
While the mainstay at Gamechanger is the VR video games, Joni, who is also a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, would eventually like to expand to include mental health and therapy VR experiences.
According to Scientificamerican.com, VR has been used successfully to treat post-traumatic stress disorder since the 1990s. Moreover, the new VR systems today are being used to address a much broader range of conditions. The library of Palo Alto-based Limbix, for instance, includes VR content designed to treat issues including alcohol addiction, claustrophobia and teenage depression; and Barcelona-based Psious offers treatments for eating disorders.
“VR can really help people that have addictions,” Joni said. “Research suggests it hits the same reward center in our brains as someone who satisfies an addiction craving with the substance they are addicted to. It also helps with problems associated with Alzheimer’s or depression.”
A gamer himself, Caleb said he would eventually like to design and create his own VR game to offer to Gamechanger patrons. But for now, he’s simply excited to offer something new to Gate City gamers.
“I have always been a gamer myself,” Caleb said. “I love every bit about the new style of gameplay. VR and augmented reality games are the future and we’re excited to offer a little taste of that experience to those here in the area.”