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Virtual reality arcade the Portal opens in Winnipeg

Winnipeg’s first virtual reality arcade is now open on Corydon Avenue — making it one of the first in Canada.

Business wants to bring virtual reality to non-gamers and gamers alike in social environment

Allison Marinelli explores the deep sea while The Portal owner Chris Hall watches on a monitor nearby. (CBC)

Winnipeg's first virtual reality arcade is now open on Corydon Avenue — making it one of the first in Canada.

The Portal has 15 games and experiences for players who suit up with a VR headset.

Players can fight zombies, shoot bows and arrows, play golf, build cars and explore underwater coral reefs and sunken ships.

Chris Hall opened the shop with his wife after trying a virtual reality set for the first time just a few months ago.

"I was so blown away by the experience that I re-evaluated everything I was doing, and I asked my wife whether I could buy the most expensive equipment in virtual reality that's commercially available today, and she strangely said yes," said Hall.

Right now, Canada has only a handful of virtual reality arcades. Calgary and Waterloo each have one, and this week one popped up in Regina.

Hall's background was in geographical information systems, which is a type of mapping, and this is the first time he's stepped into the role of business owner.

"There's a bit of duct tape hanging around, our cable management solutions are a little bit new. We are starting a business — my wife and I — for the first time, with limited money," he said.
Allison Marinelli, a self-described non-gamer, tried out a virtual reality headset for the first time on Thursday at Winnipeg's the Portal on Corydon. (CBC)

The aim is to provide a social virtual reality experience where players can move around and interact with a virtual environment while their friends watch what's happening on a TV screen, and then switch.

"Virtually reality is opening up games. It's no longer for the target demographic of young guys," said Hall, who adds he wants to create a family-friendly gaming environment.

Allison Marinelli, a self-described non-gamer, tried it out for the first time on Thursday in the 64-square-foot gaming area.

"It's so amazing – it makes you feel like another place and it takes you completely out of your element," said Marinelli, who explored an underwater ship and "swam" with jelly fish.

"There was a big blue whale and it was really close," she said. "It felt super real to the point that I was a little scared."

More experienced gamers can try out the Brookhaven Experiment, which has players fight zombies with weapons.

"There is a video of me playing that game and basically crying after," said Hall.

The shop is open for bookings now, but they're still working out the kinks so they're offering a discount to customers.

Hall plans to have a grand opening in a couple weeks.

Winnipeg's first virtual reality arcade is now open on Corydon Avenue — making it one of the first in Canada. 1:49

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