This is your grandmother’s video game

Source: The Record
Author: Brent Davis

WATERLOO — Dorothy Gow steps off the elevator, and very nearly into thin air.

All that stands between her and a considerable drop to the ground below is a narrow wooden plank. She gingerly takes a step forward, and doesn’t look back.

A few minutes ago, Gow was comfortably seated in a room at The Westhill retirement residence in Waterloo. Now, she’s about to fly, thanks to the magic of virtual reality.

Wearing goggles and clutching a pair of controllers, Gow is fully immersed in a digital world. Fellow residents and staff look on, watching Gow’s progress on a television screen. Their view is two-dimensional; Gow’s is much more realistic.

“I don’t want to come back,” she said with a smile as her turn came to an end. “I think I want to do that all the time.”

Waterloo-based Ctrl V, a virtual reality arcade business with 17 locations in Canada, the United States and Costa Rica, brought the technology to The Westhill on Tuesday to demonstrate its broad appeal.

“We really believe that if we show that there is a need for the older generation, more content can be created for them,” said Ctrl V’s marketing manager, Arturo Salek. “It’s the first medium we’ve found that transcends age.”

There’s an entertainment value, for sure, as Gow and others found as they flew through a cityscape, swatted at incoming objects, or painted their names in cloudlike script. But virtual reality can tap into creativity, conquer fears, improve cognitive function, and test hand-eye coordination.

“It is a fascinating experience for them,” said Donald Leslie, general manager of The Westhill. “It’s very cool that they can do it sitting down, and be able to experience things they wouldn’t normally be able to experience.”

Ctrl V doesn’t create virtual reality content, but it has close relationships with developer partners who take its feedback into consideration. This is the first of what Salek hopes will be other similar sessions at retirement facilities; Ctrl V recorded Tuesday’s session and plans to use the footage to help promote content creation for an older demographic.

“We do have a lot of seniors who come to our locations with grandchildren,” Salek said. “There’s an experience for everyone.”

Resident Carol Oestreich admitted that she felt her competitive streak coming out as she played one of the games. “My experience goes way back to Pac-Man,” she said. “This was a new reality that I just had to try.”

But she drew the line at walking the plank. “I could not believe how scary it really was,” she said. “I couldn’t put one foot out there.”

Herb Smith, a veteran of the Second World War, said he found the virtual environment quite realistic. “I was uncertain what it was all about,” he said. “It’s very interesting. I’d like to know more about it.”

As educational as Tuesday’s experience was, Ctrl V may have landed a few new customers in the process. “Ladies’ night out, we’re going to this place,” Gow announced.