Graeme Deishl opened downtown Anchorage’s first escape room in June of 2017 and later this month he’ll unveil the city’s first virtual reality arcade within the same facility.

“The virtual reality has always been something done in lockstep, knowing those paths (traditional escape rooms) were going to merge,” Deishl said.

The VR arcade at Alaska Escape Rooms is currently navigating a soft opening, prying the doors open a little wider with a special weekend for service members in observation of Veterans Day, and going all out with a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting at a date to be determined next week.

“Right now we have about 30 games, but we could have hundreds,” Deishl said. “As we find out what people like, we’ll adjust. For Christmas, we’ll have Christmas-themed games and for Halloween we had ‘face your fear’ games.”

Speaking of facing your fear, the game ‘Richie’s Plank Experience’ is typically the one Deishl starts newcomers out with. The player finds him or herself standing atop a skyscraper in a fantasy world and invited to step out onto a 2 by 4 plank of wood, oddly nailed to the edge of the building. To add to the realism, Deishl places a plank in front of the player corresponding with the sensor in the visor. You can try to convince yourself you’re on solid ground with nothing to fear, but convincing your mind stepping out on the plank is anything short of suicide is another matter.

“I felt when I did it I had this nice adrenaline rush that has your whole week going good,” Deishl said. “You get endorphins from that plank, which I have still not been able to (walk out on).”

Deishl wouldn’t go so far as to call VR games ‘therapeutic,’ especially as they relate to face-your-fear games, but anecdotally, he has found benefit.

“I’m a jumpy guy, so when I got to do some of these face your fear things, in a safe environment where you can’t get hurt, it gives you control over your fears,” he said. “There’s no way to assimilate those things in a safe way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s therapeutic… but for myself, personally, it absolutely is. It allows me to control how I experience that thing I’m afraid of.”

The VR arcade also includes opportunities for escape room puzzle games for teams.

“The game ‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes’ is a great team-builder,” Deishly said. “While you’re diffusing a bomb, everyone else has the manual and they’re helping the person working on it. It helps with working on communication, working with each other in a pressurized situation, which is what we do in escape rooms.”

Deishl said there are tradeoffs with VR escape room adventures.

“The advantage is we can do things like put you in a 4x8 closet filling up with water to your neck and you have to jump up and get breath to solve it. Obviously you can’t do that in real life because it would be very dangerous,” Deishl said. “But the disadvantage is that it’s more of an independent activity, specific to a person, unlike the physical rooms.”

Deishl believes that somewhere between those poles is a happy medium that can generate new forms of escape room play.

“I see it interacting,” he said. “We’ve talked about an escape room with a submarine adventure and why couldn’t the periscopre be the VR machine? You could be looking around in real time with Alaska imagery and could even put clues in there. Another avenue that could help businesses out would be giving 3-D tours of what they do if they’re a flying service, to show what it’s like to be on their cruises or landing on a glacier. A customer can come in for five minutes and know exactly what they’re going to get.”

For more information, visit https://www.alaskaescaperooms.com or call 907-444-6975.

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