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The reality is virtual, but the fun is real

Kids can explore new worlds, slay fruit or battle their friends in dodgeball at Ballard’s new Portal Virtual Reality Arcade



Charlotte Harader tries her hand at a virtual reality game in Ballard.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

With dark décor and booth-lined walls, Ballard’s new Portal Virtual Reality Arcade looks more like a nightclub than a place kids might want to play. But that first impression doesn’t last: The immersive experiences on offer are meant to appeal to all ages — kids just have to be big enough to wear the headsets and use the handsets (owner Tim Harader says that’s usually around age 8). From there, kids can explore new worlds, slay fruit or battle their friends in VR dodgeball.

Some games, like VR Fruit Ninja, are especially suited to younger kids because they don’t require pressing buttons while holding the handset. Some kids who may have played the phone version of the game before can now step into the booth and use their arms to slice flying watermelons, pineapples and blueberries.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Portal has quickly become a popular spot for birthday parties.

Two of the 10 booths are designated for children, meaning that all of the games are kid-friendly. But Harader says that few games at any booth are wholly inappropriate, and all booths have a few games that are good for kids — in part because the arcade has turned out to be a popular birthday-party venue, with groups taking over the entire space.

The games change each month to keep things fresh, but always include puzzle-style games, sports, arcade and first-person shooter (which, at least in the case of Space Pirate Trainer, aren’t necessarily un-kid-friendly). Staff help everyone get set up and start a training tutorial, and parents can see everything — what’s happening in the booth and what their kid is seeing — via screens in a lounge area in the room’s center. That also means that kids can watch each other, cheering and guiding, which keeps things exciting when it’s not their turn.

The ability to watch along is also good for nervous kids, who can watch their parents go first, says Harader, though most jump right in. Sometimes that literally means jumping: One of the best parts of virtual reality is that unlike traditional video games, these games keep kids up and active, making it as good a rainy-day playground alternative as it is birthday-party venue.

From $12.95 for one or more persons splitting 15 minutes; 2601 NW Market St.; portalvr.us

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