James Clymer stood in Morganton on Thursday staring off at the far-away mountains. It was just before 12:30 p.m. but the stars shined bright from straight up above.

All seemed calm from the center of the platform he was standing on, but only for a second. Because out of nowhere, a suspicious aircraft shot straight into the sky. What does one do at a moment like this? Well, Clymer reached for his gun.

Clymer, 23, is the owner of Virtual Reality Arcade, a new business at 903 W. Union St. that is set to offer free admission for all customers at its soft opening Friday at 5 p.m.

“Virtual reality — it’s a virtual world,” Clymer said. “You’re stepping inside of another place.”

And stepping inside the business at the far end of Mimosa Hills Shopping Center is a sight to see in itself.

Large mounted TVs line an entire wall, while typical arcade games line a smaller section of the wall directly across. And in between those walls, headsets hang from the ceiling above.

“The tech is really low,” Clymer said. “You put on a headset, you got some controllers in your hand. But it’s just a much more immersive way to interact with a videogame or online or into that whole internet thing.”

Those who walk in the business having never played virtual reality before might not understand the excitement on players’ faces as they swing their arms at nothing and dodge the empty air.

But the excitement is not about what’s happening in the room or even what’s happening on the screen behind them. The true excitement is what happens in the player’s mind — a mind that, from firsthand experience, can trick the player into believing he or she is in an alternate world.

For example, take the world Clymer was playing inside Thursday afternoon — the world of Space Pirate Trainer, a first-person shooter game.

Players pull a trigger on the controllers in each one of their hands to shoot at spacecrafts and move their bodies up, down and side to side to dodge bullets coming toward them.

To pick up an object in a game, all a player has to do is walk toward it, reach for it and clench their hand on a trigger. But if that still sounds complicated, Clymer said he will be at the soft opening Friday to offer help.

Anyone who comes to the opening at 5 p.m. will be able to choose from about 20 single-player and multi-player games to play for 15 minutes. Clymer hopes to have about 600 games by next month.

The games range in genre from shooter to horror to puzzle, and Clymer has the ability to talk to players through a headset to guide them through whatever type of game they choose.

“At first, it does take a few minutes to orient yourself and everything,” Clymer said. “It takes a little getting used to, but after that, it’s all just figuring it out. It’s really simple.”

And Clymer admits, when it comes to the business, he’s still trying to figure it out. Clymer is a filmmaker but realized the risk was too large to pursue it as a career.

“There’s not as much of a chance for a return if I do that, so I started thinking what kind of business can I start,” Clymer said.

Clymer, who never has owned a business before, decided only about a month ago that virtual reality was the route he wanted to take.

“I started thinking about, well, how am I going to get into that because that’s a much better business option, and it actually has a bigger impact rather than just making movies and spending my money doing that,” he said.

And the impact goes beyond just having a fun day at the arcade. Clymer said he appreciates virtual reality for its uses as alternate education systems, something Clymer got interested in after becoming frustrated with the amount of money it would cost to go to college.

Clymer said virtual reality can help teach multiple subjects, including medicine, and he hopes to move toward his business also becoming a research and development facility. But even now, with the business being just an arcade, Clymer hopes to inspire the local youth.  

“The bowling alley closed down, and then after that, there was just absolutely nothing to do except go hop down to the bar,” Clymer said. “That’s really expensive, and I don’t think it’s very good for our youth to come out the gate with nothing but beer all around us.”

The arcade has booths and a lounge area so people can have parties or meet with youth groups, Clymer said. He also hopes to partner with local schools to host field trips and offer programming and visual design training.

Clymer was supposed to have his soft opening Tuesday but made an announcement on Facebook that it was being pushed back to Friday. Still, about 40 people showed up Tuesday, he said.

“I’ve seen some buzz but I don’t know what to expect ( Friday),” he said. “One, I’ve never started a business before. Two, it’s virtual reality gaming. There’s not a test market I could look at.”

After Friday, Clymer will begin charging guests to play the games. The prices aren’t definite, but he expects to charge $20 per hour for a headset. Multiple people can switch playing on the headset and split the cost, he said.

He also plans to offer an unlimited membership for about $80, and through a partnership with Flex Gym next door, an extra $10 will get a person memberships to both facilities.

Clymer said the partnership makes sense because virtual reality is not just people sitting in front of a screen. In some instances, it can be used as exercise.

Clymer said he even plans to purchase a special treadmill that allows players to walk even further in a game than they can now. Currently, players move around in about a 6-foot by 8-foot space.

Clymer hopes to grow his business as the virtual reality business grows, itself. The closest virtual reality arcade is in Greensboro, but new games constantly are being developed all around the world.

“Whatever people can come up with and play, they are putting it out there,” Clymer said.

The hours have not been permanently set, but Clymer plans to be open from noon to midnight on the weekends and from noon to 10 p.m. during the week, he said.  

The soft opening will shut down around midnight, Clymer said. After that, Clymer said he may take a few days to work out the kinks.

Ryan Wilusz  is a staff writer and can be reached at rwilusz@morganton.com or at 828-432-8941.

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