A new family-friendly attraction has just opened in Sydney.
In 2021, the massively popular South Korean Netflix series Squid Game pitted players in deep financial doo-doo against each other in a range of deadly children's games. Today, playing the far less violent Squid Game at the new Immersive Gamebox at Darling Harbour in Sydney's CBD, I'm expecting to be outclassed by my smug gen Z opponents, who were raised on video games like Fortnite and its ilk. My delight in discovering you don't need to be a gamer to play the family-friendly Immersive Gamebox is short-lived. Rather than being out-gamed, I am out-nimbled by the gen Zs' superior dexterity.
We enter the "box", a room about four metres by three metres, and strap on our head visors, the key to the clever technology that incorporates projection mapping, 3D motion-tracking and touch-screen walls.
Easily absorbing the short instructional video that precedes the gaming action, the 19-year-olds in my group - Daniel, Sophia, Charlie and Mia - use their visors to manoeuvre their avatars like pros, quickly adapting to the spatial awareness and adroitness that is the key to performing the tasks set by the game.
I take a bit longer but eventually get the hang of the counter-intuitive nature of moving my avatar. It turns out you move your avatar upwards by moving closer to the wall, rather than lifting your grey, old head or standing on your arthritic tippy toes.
We start with Red Light, Green Light, where anyone caught moving by the creepy swivel-headed doll is "shot dead". We tackle mazes, memory challenges, a tug-of-war and the "honeycomb cookie", all based on the Squid Game TV series, and all with the added pressure of time limits.
A bit like VR and a lot about embarrassing uncoordinated baby boomers, Squid Game is just one of the augmented-reality adventures at Immersive Gamebox. It's aimed at luring players of all ages, with games such as Angry Birds, PAW Patrol, Shaun the Sheep, Ghostbusters, Ticket to Mars and Alien Aptitude Test also on offer.
Dalia Goldgor is the director of special projects for the Immersive Gamebox company, which was founded in 2018. She's straight out of brash New Yorker central casting, and her job is to oversee the opening of Gamebox venues all over the world.
"All up, there are 29 Immersive Gameboxes in the UK, USA, Germany, the UAE and now Australia," says Dalia.
"We're based in the UK and our first location was Southbank in London. We're marching across the globe and we're aiming for 75 locations by the end of 2024. I'm a very busy girl!
There's an elegant simplicity to it and you get a good workout, too.
"The most popular game is Squid Game, which is both challenging and stressful, but my favourite is our very first game, Alien Aptitude Test London '84. It's just as challenging as Squid Game but much less nerve-wracking. There's an elegant simplicity to it and you get a good workout, too."
Each Gamebox caters to two-six players per game, which run for 30 or 60 minutes. Sometimes competitive, sometimes collaborative, it's fast-moving, a lot of fun and an appropriate addition to the Darling Harbour entertainment strip, which is already home to Madame Tussauds, WILD LIFE Zoo, IMAX Theatre, Kingpin Bowling and SEA LIFE Aquarium. immersivegamebox.com/sydney
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