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Delaware’s first virtual reality arcade to open in Bear

A trip to Atlantic City 18 months ago has inspired Delaware’s first virtual reality arcade.

“I went to my first escape room, which was virtual reality. I was blown away at the technology,” says Manny Rosembert, who decided immediately that this was the type of venture he wanted to start. “My heart was in it, something unique and something fun.”

His Ctrl V arcade is scheduled to open this month in in the Fox Run Shopping Center in Bear. If things remain on schedule, the grand opening will be Sept. 5.

Milestones in the process included immediately deciding that Canada’s Ctrl V was the best in the business, signing a franchise agreement in July of 2019, starting the search for real estate a month later, signing the lease in January, resigning from his full-time job in February to devote more time to his goal and…then the pandemic hit.

“If I hadn’t signed off on the lease, I might have stopped,” he says. “But there was no turning back.”

It turns out that a virtual reality arcade meshes well with coronavirus health guidelines. A VR station allows for only one player, meaning it’s designed for social distancing, and the setup already calls for cleaning the equipment between each user. To increase safety, he’s using stronger cleaning agents, adding hand-sanitizing stations and planning more aggressive cleaning regimens.

What You Virtually Experience

Ctrl V has 4,000 square feet of space between Acme and Fresh Hot Bagels (Rosembert’s new go-to for noshing). There are 16 VR stations and a party room for brought-in refreshments and gifts.

“Virtual reality will be very important in the future,” said Madison Hanifee, one of his three employees. Hanifee, a video game design major at Wilmington University, hopes that the job—in addition to her PlayStation VR at home in New Castle—moves her up a level up in the industry.

Rosembert models a pair of virtual reality goggles. Photo Butch Comegys

At Ctrl V, Rosembert anticipates having 50 games, and players can make requests. Some titles are familiar to home gamers—such as Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds Isle of Pigs, Creed Rise to Glory and Superhot VR—but most are recognizable only in their style, like role-playing and exercise.

The corporate site lists games in 11 genres: action, adventure, casual, experiential, family, horror, mini-games, motion, puzzle, shooter and sports. Players can select to play solo or play the same game as those in other rooms.

About half the games can be multiplayer, with limits usually of two to 10 players, with Sweet Escape robust enough to handle all the stations.

Players can share audio with others, even if they’re playing different games. A monitor outside each station mirrors what players are seeing in their headset for spectators to enjoy, although it’s not in the immersive virtual reality. To help with social distancing, Ctrl V asks for only one observer per player.

Oh, Yeah, Terms of Use

A basic hour at Ctrl V costs $25, with www.ctrlv.ca/location/bear listing promotions for a loyalty program, seniors, groups, new customer referrals and package deals. Ctrl V is cashless, the site says.

Ctrl V’s corporate site also touts that it adheres to goals and regulations of the Virtual Reality Standards Board that “ensure the health and safety of users and protect the rights of content creators.”

The company recommends that players be at least 8 years old and 40 inches tall. Players under 13 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Adult games—too much violence or gore and therefore rated 14+—can be locked out to younger children.

The action starts with signing a legal waiver, followed by a two-minute safety video. The rooms have black padding on the walls and floor, because, as Rosembert experienced in his five days of training at the head office, “a lot of players can lose their grip of reality and fall. They see a chair to sit on or a table to lean on, but it’s not there.” A help button covers falls and other issues.

The HTC Vive head-mounted display is tethered to the ceiling for maximum flexibility, with two wireless full-motion controllers strapped to the player’s hands and tracking infrared lasers and LEDs that generate the virtual reality. Players must be shoeless, and the company recommends bringing a water bottle and wearing lightweight clothing. “VR is a full-body experience!” it says.

“The most prevalent risks of VR are eye strain and motion sickness,” a corporate FAQ says. To avoid the eye strain, the company advises taking a break during extended sessions or if discomfort is felt. To avoid motion sickness, it has minimized the number of games featuring “smooth game movement which mimics real life motion” and offering games with little to no movement.

The Best Player at Home

Rosembert, 35, was born in Seaford and graduated from William Penn High School near New Castle. While growing up, he was the best video gamer among six brothers, although he admits now that his brother Edwin has surpassed him.

He earned multiple degrees from American InterContinental University, the last a master’s in information technology, and for the last nine years worked as a manager at Sallie Mae. But he yearned to do something else, and that desire also led to multiple applications to become a police officer.

Then there was the trip to Atlantic City with his son Manny Jr., his brother Gerald and nephew Gerald Jr. The next day he started researching the VR field and quickly found Ctrl V.

Ctrl V began in 2017 in Waterloo, Ontario, part of Canada’s Technology Triangle, and today it has 19 locations, with three in the U.S.: Bear (DE), Howell (NJ); and Charlotte (NC).

For the last six months, Rosembert has been focused full time on his business. His wife, Candise, passed away in 2018, and as a single father, he’s determined to find more time to be with his 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, Kabira.

Friends have been supportive.

“It’s inspirational,” says Rosembert. “They wish they could [start their own business]. They’re cheering me on.”

Ctrl V is in the Fox Run Shopping Center, U.S. 40 at Wrangle Hill Road. Operating hours are planned to be 3:30-10:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:45 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and 12:45-7 p.m. Sundays. Information: www.ctrlv.ca/location/bear or bear@ctrlvarcade.com.

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