New business invites locals to escape into virtual reality

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Two of the latest trends in entertainment have made their way to the St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra area in just one business. A combined virtual reality arcade and escape room, VR Gaming: The Great Escape offers gaming enthusiasts the opportunity to escape from reality into the live-action storyline of their choosing. Although the business is already open to the public, a grand opening event is planned for Saturday, Oct. 21 from 2 to 4 p.m.

“We opened right around the beginning of September—just in front of Hurricane Irma and just in time to shut down,” owner Barry Pakenham laughed. “It’s hard to run virtual reality in the dark.”

Having survived the hurricane, VR Gaming: The Great Escape has been attracting local gamers for the past month. While many businesses have popped up in recent years to capitalize on one of these two forms of entertainment, Pakenham said he feels his decision to offer both virtual reality gaming and an escape room is what makes his business stand out. What makes him most proud, however, is how his family came together to get everything up and running.

“My son and I basically put the virtual reality computers together,” he said. “You can’t buy a regular computer and do this—you’ve got to build it yourself. And my two daughters and my wife did the entire escape room, so it’s been a pretty fun family effort that everyone chipped in for.”

With a total of eight gaming stations and 12 different games to choose from, Pakenham said that the virtual reality side of the business allows players to totally immerse themselves in a game—so much so that it feels like reality.

“You are in the game, so when you put the headphones on and grab the controllers, it’s directly in front of you, and everything around you for 360 degrees works as if you are there,” Pakenham said. “When there are games where it appears as if there’s a huge drop, you’ll hear people say, ‘If I step over this, will I fall?’ It sounds absurd until you’re actually doing it.”

As for “The Great Escape Room,” it is another form of immersive entertainment in which a group of two to eight players, in a race against time, are locked in a room and must work together to solve all of the puzzles before their 60 minutes are up. According to Pakenham, the challenge is no easy feat.

“We’re toning it down, because nobody’s made it out yet,” he laughed.

Located across from Nease High School at 10440 U.S. 1 North, Suite 118 in St. Augustine, VR Gaming: The Great Escape will donate all proceeds from its Grand Opening to the Jacksonville Humane Society. Entry into the event will cost $5 at the door, and will include a 10-minute session of virtual reality gaming, two slices of pizza, a drink and a raffle ticket for a $50 VISA gift card. For more information, visit www.vrpontevedra.com

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