Darren Johansen tried out a virtual reality (VR) experience at Headcase VR in Campbell River. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

GOING THE EXTRA MILE: Virtual reality arcade overcomes limitatons to experiencing the VR experience

When Darren Johansen came into Campbell River’s new virtual reality (VR) arcade with his kids, he could only sit back in his wheelchair and watch them have fun.

He couldn’t strap on one of Headcase VR’s headsets and share the experience because the gaming technology was out of reach for a person like Johansen who has only limited use of his hands.

He asked the staff at Headcase, located at 220 Dogwood St., if there was anything he could do. They sadly informed him that the games all required the use of hand controllers.

“I asked them if there was anything I could do, if I could play games,” Johansen said. “And they said ‘okay, if you can move your fingers and stuff’ and I’m, well, I can’t do that.”

Johansen has only limited use of his hands that can operate his wheelchair but not the hand controllers of the latest craze in gaming technology. So, Johansen was seemingly out of luck.

However, that wasn’t good with the Headcase staff and one employee, Trent Koecher in particular, wasn’t satisfied with the situation. He figured there has to be some way Johansen can enjoy the technology. So, he ‘took his work home with him’ and hit the Internet in search of applications that did not require the use of hand controls.

“I felt really bad because we didn’t have anything he could experience,” Koecher said. “I didn’t want to let that stand.”

His perseverance paid off because he was able to find and download a program called Virtual Desktop that would work on Headcase’s VR sets.

“It will allow you to watch any video inside of the headset as if you’re sitting in a big theatre,” Koecher said. “It also allows 360-degree viewing of the videos that were filmed with those cameras and they’ve got lots of cool experiences.”

He called Johansen and told him he could set him up on a headset and he could enjoy these videos. Now, Johansen can experience an undersea scuba dive or go on a roller coaster and experience virtual sky diving. These applications don’t require controllers. They allow the participant to practically feel like they’re having the experience.

“I figured out a way we could get a program in and watch 360-degree VR videos that don’t require the use of controllers,” Koecher said. “It’s just a pure visual experience.”

Which is powerful for Johansen, a former logger and an active person. Being able to experience the thrill of a roller coaster again and the feeling of motion under the sea is exciting.

“I came in next (time) and he had a roller coaster ride set up for me where it honestly feels like you’re in the roller coaster,” Johansen said. “Like, you’re making the turns. It was an unbelievable experience.

“Obviously I can’t go in a roller coaster any more but it felt like you were actually in the roller coaster itself. It was a cool experience.”

Johansen was a gamer before his accident and uses a computer but had never experienced VR technology. When he heard about the Headcase arcade from his son who wanted to check it out he was thinking old fashioned arcade with games and a pocket full of quarters.

“And I came into the place and said ‘Where are all the games at,” Johansen said.

Johansen is a C5 quadriplegic resulting from a car accident in 2009.

“I was a heli-logger and did tree climbing so I was pretty fit and pretty strong,” Johansen said.

So, it was exciting to experience thrilling activities once again.

“It was an adrenalin rush, it was unbelievable,” he said.

Johansen greatly appreciates the work that Koecher put in to make this all happen. He worked all night to find and adapt applications that Johansen can use.

“He worked overnight and got it going for me,” Johansen said.

Do you know an individual, organization or business that Went The Extra Mile for somebody? Let us know about it by emailing editor@campbellrivermirror.com or call Alistair Taylor at 250-287-9227.

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Darren Johansen tried out a virtual reality (VR) experience at Headcase VR in Campbell River. The new VR arcade took up the challenge of making VR accessible to a person like Johansen who has only limited use of his hands. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

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