Maybe you remember arcades? It seemed as though their time had passed. Home entertainment systems, personal computers, and other video-game consoles slowly replaced the storefronts which once housed coin-operated gaming machines which had brought Pac-Man, Street Fighter, and Galaga to life. Perhaps you are old enough to remember rainy afternoons spent dazzled by the lights of space ships, ninjas, and monsters in arcades whose farewell seemed to have come in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kept alive by nostalgia and niche markets, such establishments continue in obscurity. However, a renaissance of arcades is upon us, in an unfamiliar but exciting form, and Leuven is home to a fine example: Arcave.
Having thought I said goodbye to arcades when I was 13 or so, I was surprised and curious, walking down Tiensestraat when I saw ‘Arcave’. Labeled as a ‘Virtual Reality Arcade’, I was curious enough to reserve some time to play for a friend and I. Walking in on a summer afternoon, I came to appreciate how it looked like no establishment I had seen before. Behind a front desk and small lobby and lounge space lies a large open area where players can often be found swinging remote controls, their heads obscured by goggles and ears muffed by headphones. On four screens above the front desk, visitors can see what players see. Often small audiences will gather to watch their friends or others fight zombies, monsters, or aliens, or explore the universe, and do myriad other things made possible by virtual reality (VR).
Arne Thunissen, a young Leuven native was sitting behind the front desk. He’s the owner of Arcave. He founded it in September 2017, and opened the doors in November. Having never done VR before, I simply asked for his recommendation of what to play. Soon, my friend and I had chosen a game and were holding our ‘Vive Pro’ controllers. Initially worried that I was up against a steep learning curve with high complexity, I was relieved to learn that the controller had only four buttons. Simple enough. Moments later we were standing in the play area, with headsets fitted to us like helmets or crowns. In the blink of an eye, we were in the red deserts of Arizona, scrambling to escape zombies, scavenging for supplies, and arming ourselves against the shambling undead. Quickly, I forgot the headset and controllers. Ducking, kneeling, throwing objects, and peering around corners, I worked up a mild sweat as my teammate and I navigated through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Cooperating with a friend, we exchanged thoughts, ammunition, and information about our surroundings as we progressed. Plenty of zany ideas made the rounds as we tried to sneak around and explore, problem solving in the immersive environment. The interaction made the experience all the more engaging. Arcave has four player spaces, making it possible, for example, to play with up to three friends cooperatively or competitively, depending on the game that you choose. For example, Arizona Sunshine which I played, is a cooperative game, however, VR Paintball pits you against your friends. Meanwhile, other games and experiences are available which are purely educational or exploratory, like Solar System or Postcards. Puzzle lovers can play a cooperative twist on the genre with Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a bomb-defusing game which relies on communication skills. For larger-scale events, Arcave is open and available to parties, from children to professionals.
In the beginning, when Thunissen founded Arcave, he had expected the vast majority of clients to be students, though customers range from young to old, and often include families or teambuildings. Sometimes while passing by, you will see them, as I have, with others seated in the lounge, looking up at screens broadcasting what the players see, like an audience at a sporting event. Arcave’s popularity is growing largely by word of mouth and exposure at events. Thunissen has organized and sponsored events with student organizations like Kiesweek, as well as events for incoming students, and with academics like the Working Group for Philosophy of Technology at the KU Leuven’s Institute of Philosophy. In addition, Arcave has partnered with other entertainment venues in Leuven like Laser 3000, Exit Room, and Leuven Inside Out for special group deals. You might also see Arcave’s equipment at The Hub Game Lounge in Leuven for special events like their Beat Saber Tournament.
As new technologies are developed at a hurried pace, and new generations of controllers and headsets replace the old, prices are going to remain quite high. Quality professional headsets like those available at Arcave can cost upwards of thousands of euro. To have the opportunity to play with your friends together is rare, considering the cost it would otherwise run you. Given the state of the industry and the difference in resources that will be available to average consumers and stores like Arcave, it’s likely that Arcave is here to stay, though constantly evolving. Indeed, VR is not only a platform for gaming and entertainment, but at the forefront of developments in business, academia, and the sciences. Everyone from realtors to doctors, architects, psychologists, philosophers, and others are recognizing the immersive experience that VR offers, and the unique teaching opportunities that it makes possible. Luckily for us in Leuven, this young and quickly changing industry is available close to the center of the city. As the medium advances, look for developments at Arcave, as new headsets may soon come to replace the old, and new games are added to their library on offer for players to enjoy.
Learn more about Arcave online at their website.