I went virtual reality gaming in Woking with my niece and nephew and they loved it – David Bradshaw

The idea of ​​virtual reality gaming is nothing new. As a kid who was used to the strictly two-dimensional adventures of Italian plumbers and supersonic hedgehogs, I remember seeing features on TV where wearing big clunky helmets and waving their arms around while a presenter declared that we were witnessing the start of a glorious future.

Three decades later, it still hasn’t really taken off. Yes, you can now get VR headsets for your PlayStation and accidentally smash up your living room while you flil around trying to shoot bad guys – but in truth most gamers still play the old-fashioned way, staring at a TV with a controller in their hands.

With that in mind, I was a bit sceptical when I heard that a new “immersive gaming center” was coming to Woking this month, but having still never actually tried virtual reality for myself I tried to approach it with an open mind. Fully aware that I’m now a grumpy old man who hates anything more complicated than Tetris, I also took along my 10-year-old niece and seven-year-old nephew in order to get a slightly more youthful viewpoint.

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The gaming center is in Victoria Place, in the food court of the area that used to be called The Peacocks. Run by VR company Animo Gaming, it certainly looks and sounds the part – dance music pumps from a futuristic looking square rig as you approach the area, with helmets suspended from cords in each of the four corners, and two flat screen TVs that allow spectators to see what’s happening under the helmets.

The staff were extremely helpful, and my sister-in-law Becky (who also came with us) was particularly impressed with how much attention was paid to safety, and to making sure that even the younger kids felt comfortable in what could be quite an overwhelming environment.

There are currently a dozen games on offer at the centre, some of which are suitable for kids over the age of six while others are recommended for those aged 12 and over – either because they are more complicated or, in one case, because they involve blasting zombies into oblivion. As much as I actually think my niece and nephew would have quite enjoyed this, their mum was with us so I decided to pretend I am a responsible uncle and settled for the slightly tamer offerings.

We started by playing ‘Groove Guardians’, where you find yourself standing on an illuminated platform in outer space punching at asteroids that fly at you to the beat of an energetic soundtrack. “Show me what you’ve got!” screamed the lyrics, as my brain tried to process the psychedelic fever dream it was now encountering. Within five minutes I had quickly learned that “what I’ve got” is a bad sense of rhythm and very poor cardiovascular health.

Luckily the kids seemed to take it much more easily, and immediately wanted another go. While I got my breath back, their mum took my place and together they played ‘Cold Clash’, which involved hovercrafting across a frozen lake collecting coins while firing snowballs at each other from a cannon. I’m pretty sure it was more than my brain could have handled, but they seemed to be having a whale of a time.

After we’d finished and the kids had marched us into the adjacent McDonald’s to buy them milkshakes, I asked them both what they thought of the whole experience. My nephew gave it seven out of 10, deducting a few points because he had had some trouble keeping the helmet on his little head and said it rubbed his nose a bit too much, but otherwise he loved it.

My niece gave it an oddly specific 9.776 out of 10, having basically enjoyed every moment of it – and both of us grown-ups agreed. Particularly on a day when the weather wasn’t playing ball, we had a memorable indoor adventure, and the price was quite reasonable too.

Animo charges £10 for a five-minute game, but this gives you the entire play area for that time. In other words, if you have a group of four then it only costs £2.50 each. Some of the teens and adults who have been playing apparently paired up with other groups to split the cost and made some new friends in the process. You can book online but they also accept walk-ups.

The center is going to be in Woking until early July, and is open from 11am every day until Victoria Place closes for the day. It would make for a great Easter holiday or May half-term activity – so great, in fact, that I unexpectedly found myself wondering afterwards whether that long-promised VR future might finally be on the brink of arriving…



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