Art News

Denver Museum of Nature & Science Opens Virtual Reality Arcade

Pick your reality for $10 or less.
Pick your reality for $10 or less. DMN&S
You begin in darkness. Then a crack forms and light shines through, growing brighter as more of the wall encasing you falls away. You look out and see your parents, both eagles, chirping as they pull at the shell that you no longer need. With your egg casing gone, you see the world that you have been born into: Paris. And then you take off, soaring high above the Seine, flapping through the middle of the Eiffel Tower and cruising on  to Notre Dame.

Although this might sound like an enthralling dream, it’s not. It’s reality…virtual reality.

On July 9, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science unveiled its latest addition, a virtual-reality arcade that will transport people of all ages (all ages ten and up, that is) around the world and even to Mars without ever actually leaving the museum.

“You can go places you’ve never been before. It gives guests a totally new experience,” says Stephanie Wood, the museum’s director of guest services.

The museum built the facility itself, while the ten games available come from outside companies. I tested out four: Eagle Flight, Google Earth Virtual Reality, Mars Odyssey, and Beat Saber. At each station in the arcade, a user wears audio-equipped goggles and holds two controllers, then takes off into a new reality.

Living as an eagle, even for just a few minutes, is a special experience. All that is required for flying is head tilting, hand movement and some pressing of the triggers on the controllers. I tried to flap my wings using my arms, but the eagle appeared to be on autopilot in that regard. The game is great for those who have never been to Paris but want to explore the historic city...from the sky.

Google Earth offers similar benefits, transporting a user around the globe. I visited the Colosseum in Rome and also poked around near my mother’s apartment in Manhattan. Eagles are not involved in this game, but it's still enjoyable, especially for those who love to explore new places.

click to enlarge Go around the world. Go to Mars. - DMN&S
Go around the world. Go to Mars.
Mars Odyssey takes the user to our red next-door neighbor. The two controllers transform into gloved astronaut hands that you can see in front of you, as you are tasked with welding broken machinery on Mars. Both fun and educational, this game will certainly inspire some young people to start studying astrophysics.

Beat Saber is totally different from the other three games I tried; the game is like Dance Dance Revolution meets Star Wars. You hold two lightsabers and swing at boxes to the beat of a song. It definitely got my heart pumping.

The arcade is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; after paying museum admission, adults can pay $10 and junior guests (ten and up) $9 for ten minutes of gaming time. (Members pay $9 and $8, respectively.) Ten minutes sounded short to me, but Wood says it's a standard at other virtual-reality arcades. For those under ten, the arcade also has a virtual-reality ride, which takes anyone 42 inches or taller on a ride with three friends.

The museum tested a virtual-reality experience last year at its Space Odyssey exhibit, which proved so popular that it decided to expand its offerings. According to Wood, the museum may add still more games going forward, depending on what guests want. “It’s a big experiment for us," she says. "We’re just going to see see how this goes.”

For more information, visit the museum's website or call 303-370-6000.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.