First East Coast Virtual Reality Arcade Opens in D.C.

Product development firm NotionTheory partnered with co-working firm MakeOffices to launch the East Coast’s first-ever virtual reality arcade Aug. 15 in Washington, D.C. Press and two Georgetown students were invited to a launch party for the arcade Aug. 10.

When Grammy-nominated rapper Wale performed at Georgetown in April, he discovered the project and brought it to the attention of his record label company, Every Blue Moon.

While on campus, his team decided to include Georgetown students in the development of the arcade, including sending two of them to the launch party.

NotionTheory Founder and CEO Kristian Bouw expressed his excitement for the groundbreaking company at the launch party.

“The experiences that you’re going to try tonight are part of the first generation of technology that’s out right now,” Bouw said.

Bouw partnered with lead VR engineer Sean T. McBeth, and the duo opened the arcade to the public at its temporary location on 18th St. NW in Dupont Circle. It will remain there until moving to a permanent location in Dupont.

Though the NotionTheoryVR arcade is the first virtual reality arcade on the East Coast, within the past five years, these arcades have been popping up in the United States in places such as Seattle and Utah. Two opened up in Illinois in July.

In the D.C. location, there are 14 different virtual reality games available and players don headsets and hold controllers while playing the game of their choice.

McBeth explained the history of graphic user interface in a speech to the attendees of the launch party.

“Xerox Star was the first graphic user interface in 1981 — exactly the same as your desktop right now. We haven’t upgraded much. The computers we have now — still icons, still menus,” McBeth said.

McBeth looked forward to the future of virtual reality and predicted it becoming more commonplace.

“The next generation — what will their first computer be?” McBeth continued. “We don’t really know, but I’m betting it will be a virtual reality device of some kind. There are some complaints right now about the goofy-looking headsets but you have to understand, the headsets we have today are basically the Nokia brick phones right now.”

McBeth also predicted the comingling of technology to create a new type of technological reality.

“We have this concept that virtual reality and augmented reality are separate things. I think eventually they’re going to merge into one thing, that at first we’ll call ‘mixed reality’ and then we’ll just call ‘computers,’” McBeth said.

The end goal for VR enthusiasts is the creation of the “metaverse” — esentially the internet through virtual reality. You can be physically somewhere, travel virtually anywhere and meet anyone.

McBeth addressed concerns that this technology might cause people to forgo actual experiences and instead only experience them virtually. He said VR will give an opportunity for a particular experience that the person may not have had otherwise.

Additionally, according to McBeth, those who use VR to their advantage will have “superpowers” similar to how modern technology increases capability and efficiency now.

Bouw said the purpose of the NotionTheory arcade is not simply about making technology more accessible; it is about uniting communities as well.

“Our goal with NotionTheory is to be able to build products that start to bring the metaverse to us. It’s about headsets, it’s about controllers, it’s about the social aspects of virtual reality — bringing people together,” Bouw said.

Kamar Mack (COL ’19), a computer science major, was one of the students invited to the launch party by EBM. He said he was excited about the technology, even though he had never experienced virtual reality through a headset before.

“I’m a computer science major, so I love tech. When I heard about the event, I was automatically interested. I wasn’t sure what to expect though because I’d never used a virtual reality headset before,” Mack said. “But when I went into the NotionTheory room, I put on a headset and it was completely realistic. The whole experience was immersive.”

 

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