Austin’s Punch Bowl Social now offers virtual reality gaming

I shot a laser gun at space pirates and slashed my ninja sword at falling fruit. For a short time, I was even a Jedi wielding two lightsabers that smoked when they touched each other. North Austin’s Punch Bowl Social is making it possible for all of us to become virtual heroes like these with the launch of a cutting-edge virtual reality program — the first of its kind at a local bar.

In the Domain, the sprawling Punch Bowl Social offers a veritable adult wonderland of bowling, vintage arcade games, pool tables and karaoke rooms alongside well-made food and cocktails. Now, the bar’s founder and CEO, Robert Thompson, has decided to take the games to the next level and will have virtual reality at all Punch Bowl Social locations, starting at the Austin bar.

“Austin is the first location for it. We wanted to test it here because there’s a great tech environment in Austin, and it just felt right,” he said.

Each of the four virtual reality stations — or “bazaars,” as Punch Bowl Social calls them — are ready and waiting for participants, although the program officially kicks off Thursday. When you come into the bar to play, you’ll rent by the hour.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. One of Punch Bowl Social’s manager tests out an archery game as part of the bar’s new virtual reality program.

Thompson recognizes there are some misconceptions about virtual reality, still not a mainstream technology, but he’s eager to dispel them. One major point about the kind of VR played at Punch Bowl Social is that it’s not a solitary activity, the sort of game the player alone sees through a headset. Instead, VR company VRsenal has transformed virtual reality into a social experience, he said.

“If you think about virtual reality, you might think about tech geeks in a room closed off from the world, a la Nintendo from 1988 or something,” he said. “But we never would have done this if we couldn’t figure out how to do it socially. One person plays, and everyone can see you play. You really disappear into the game pretty quickly. Your friends are here eating and drinking, and they can see what you see.”

What bystanders see, however, is slightly different from what someone playing the game sees. Put on the headset and take hold of the two…

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