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You're the hero at Sandbox VR

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Image courtesy of Sandbox VR
Image courtesy of Sandbox VR

One of the world's leading virtual reality entertainment companies has finally arrived in the Emerald City. Sandbox VR is a stunning new take on the video game experience, wherein groups of up to six players are whisked from the small location in downtown Seattle to visually stunning destinations right out of a fantasy. The catch? They never leave the small gray room they enter at the beginning of the experience.

On arrival at Sandbox VR, participants are asked to check in using iPads, either confirming their reservation or creating a new one if there's a walk-in opening. (Sandbox recommends that anyone interested in its VR experience reserve a time slot, as walk-in availability varies.)

Currently, the company has seven gaming options, which vary from the Unbound Fighting League, where players can battle each other as robots, to Deadwood Valley, where they team up to survive a zombie apocalypse. The newest experience, Seekers of the Shard, takes participants to a fantasy world where they battle dragons, goblins, and skeletons that have come to life.

Seekers of the Shard — Image courtesy of Sandbox VR  

State-of-the-art technology
Once players have confirmed their reservation, they are fitted with motion-sensing technology that tracks all their arm and leg movements. Sandbox VR also provides color-coded wrist and leg bands before play can begin. Participants then make an account with Sandbox, which includes a quick headshot.

Before gamers can go to the VR room, they must select their avatar. In Seekers of the Shard, this selection is vital, as each character has unique abilities and weapons. Once chosen, an avatar cannot be selected by someone else. Seekers of the Shard has six avatar options: two fire sword-people (one masculine and one feminine), two archers, and two ax-wielding ice sorcerers. The game's characters do fall along a gender binary as far as costume and appearance, but masculine and feminine characters have the same capacities and abilities.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Once each player has an avatar, they are taken to an all-gray room, which appears small until attendees place the VR headsets over their eyes.

The headsets are like a magical transportation device. In the blink of an eye, the gray room disappears, replaced by cyberspace. The starting location for Seekers of the Shard appears to be a vast fantasy realm existing in all directions. With such breathtaking graphics, it can be easy to forget you're just in a game — and a small room. However, there are boundaries on the physical floor and in virtual reality to help keep players from running into walls.

Once inside the game, the headsets and microphones allow the gamers to communicate with each other. They can see their group members only as their avatars. Thanks to the wrist and ankle bands, the avatars appear to match the stature of the actual players controlling them.

Before the game begins, Sandbox walks gamers through a quick tutorial that explains how to use their various in-game powers and weapons. Props are distributed as stand-ins for swords, axes, and bows.

Still working out the bugs
Because Seekers of the Shard is the company's newest attraction, it has some bugs to work through. While playing, my group of five was required to restart every few minutes due to malfunctioning headsets. Dedicated attendants worked overtime to resolve the issue and get us back in the game as quickly as possible.

While my group did spend several minutes in cyberspace limbo waiting for finicky technology to be righted, even just hanging out as our badass alter egos was entertaining. When the game pauses, characters can still walk around, dance, and interact with each other. Things do get tricky, however, when headsets are removed. Attendants are the only ones allowed to secure and remove them. As they worked to repair the broken ones, everyone else watched the malfunctioning avatars stretch, slide, and be suspended in mid-air.

Ultimately, the tricky headsets could not be fixed, so my group moved to a second room. Whereas many other businesses may have kicked us out once our time was up, the manager at Sandbox VR made sure our group got the chance to finish a game.

"After the technical difficulties, the experience was quite fun," said Melissa Diaz. "We would go again!"

Once we got started, the game was a whirlwind. Endorphins kicked in thanks to the hyperrealistic experience. The headsets make it look and sound like players are now in the fantasy realm of the shard, and giant fans and vibrating vests also provide added physical sensations of existing in a virtual reality.

Following the experience, my group was all smiles and felt a sense of accomplishment. There's nothing like the bond that comes from defeating the evil shard together!

The game ends with players on an endorphin high, but they don't just kick you out. Those lucky enough to win Seekers of the Shard, for example, are rewarded with a quick guitar-band music video. After attendees remove the gear, they go to a final screening room. There they watch a video of themselves playing and view their stats. The fun ending video had everyone laughing, especially the final scene.

Before leaving, Sandbox VR also offered our group the chance to return for a free session to make up for the technical difficulties we encountered, a kind gesture that more than made up for the minor snafus.

Fun for almost everyone
Sandbox VR is one of the most realistic such experiences on the market. Because the technology has such accurate body tracking, encountering motion sickness or dizziness while playing the game is unlikely. However, in visual sequences where the characters are on top of a moving ship or floating plank of wood, dizziness may still be encountered.

Different games provide different levels of gore, cartoon violence, and scares. Seekers of the Shard was a great middle option, with minimal blood and jump scares. It's a great experience for families or groups of friends looking for a fun alternative to regular games or movies.

Gamers of all ages are welcome, but those under 18 must have a parent fill out a waiver before engaging in the game. Sandbox also has a minimum height requirement of four feet and warns that patrons who cannot support about 20 lbs. of gear for an hour should not participate. Pregnant women and people with heart conditions are also warned not to participate.

Sandbox VR is a surreal experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered what it might be like to visit their favorite video game. With so many options, there's a game for every group — though gamers take heed: moms are surprisingly good at VR.

Sandbox VR is located at 526 Westlake Ave. N. in Seattle, and online at https://www.sandboxvr.com/seattle/. Each game costs $50-55 per person.