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I Tried It: Group Virtual Reality

Sandbox VR offers virtual reality experiences for six people at once
Sydney Prather

The fully immersive “holodecks” that Star Trek promised us are nearly here. Consumer headsets and motion controls hit the market in the late 2010s, but even those that support “room tracking” (where you can stand and walk around the virtual space) are still single-player only. Now the startup Sandbox VR, which has 13 locations worldwide and just landed in Mission Valley, offers games for up to six people at once. They started with four proprietary worlds to choose from, but it’s only natural that their first licensed property is Star Trek Discovery: Away Mission.

I’m a longtime video gamer who’d never done VR, and my friends ranged from cutting-edge techie to never-picked-up-a-controller, but we all encountered a similar learning curve. Friendly staff helped us suit up with arm and foot sensors, a “haptic vest” that vibrates to indicate where you’ve been shot, a backpack computer, goggles, and earphones, until we looked like a cross between Halo’s Master Chief and Andy Serkis at work. We floundered awhile in an infinite void while the environment loaded (cue the Matrix jokes), but then, like magic, there we were on a Federation starship.

I Tried It: Group Virtual Reality – Game

I Tried It: Group Virtual Reality – Game

None of us chose avatars who resembled our real selves, but we figured out who was who thanks to the surround sound and our virtual mouths, which moved when we spoke. It was amazing how convincing the illusion of depth worked—only a red outline on the ground warned us where the walls were in real life, and our positions were accurate enough that we never collided and could even high-five (on the second try). We never felt dizzy or motion sick, though the goggles did get heavy. The Star Trek game alternated between investigation and combat: now searching an ice cave for clues, now shooting purple snakes off our legs and taking cover from Klingons.

The experience best resembles an interactive theme park ride: the suspenseful music, the dramatic set pieces, the souvenir photos from the scariest moment. That was by far our favorite part: laughing at videos of ourselves afterward, pointing at things that weren’t there and screaming in an otherwise silent, empty room.

Sandbox VR

1640 Camino del Rio North

I Tried It: Group Virtual Reality – Feature

Sydney Prather

By Dan Letchworth

Dan Letchworth is the copy chief of San Diego Magazine. His print column Dansplaining explores San Diego trivia, and his theater review blog Everyone’s a Critic was a finalist for best online column in the 2019 National City & Regional Magazine Awards.

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