Dominic Figurelli

Dominic Figurelli, 14, of Paris tries out the virtual reality game Skyfront VR at the Matrix VR Arcade Wednesday morning. Using controllers in both hands and a series of cameras set up around the booth, he used his body as the controls for an interactive virtual reality game.

Do you miss riding roller coasters? Have you ever wanted to try your hand at flying, being a secret agent or maybe chopping up fruit flying at you from every direction?

Paris’ newest entertainment business holds the answer for all these aspirations and more in the form of its all-new virtual reality (VR) games.

Located in the Paris Square Shopping Center on Mineral Wells Avenue, the Matrix VR Arcade opened May 13 with a catalogue of more than 25 games. The arcade features five bays where players can enjoy a completely immersive gaming experience in the main room, and a party room in the back with two more bays geared at private parties such as birthday celebrations.

The games range from outdoor experiences like golf or fishing to roller coaster simulations, shooters, rhythm games where you have to dance along to a beat and even some old cellphone classic games like Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds.

“When people first come in, they’re often quiet and reserved, not knowing what to expect,” said Robert Castaldo, who co-owns the business with his wife, Deborah. “And by the time they leave, everyone is laughing, taking photos and having a great time.”

Not your traditional arcade experience, customers rent a VR booth for a period of time ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. The brightly colored and padded booths line the wall on one side of the arcade, while a seating area takes up the opposite wall.

Friends and family can watch the players animatedly playing the game and see a two-dimensional view of what the player sees on a computer screen above the booth.

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever done before,” arcade employee Cherish Campos said. “It’s a lot of fun. The customers are always having a blast. (The customers) are really funny. It’s nice seeing them smile and get out of the house.”

Castaldo said he and his team work hard to overcome customers’ fear of COVID-19 by sanitizing all equipment with one-use wipes between each use, cleaning the arcade thoroughly and often, and also by offering customers masks and gloves at the door.

“We want this to be a seamless experience. That’s why we did the soft opening last week,” Castaldo said. “I’ll give new customers some time to go through a tutorial before I turn their time on so they know what they’re doing. If they have more fun, they’re more likely to come back.”

LOOKING FOR SECOND CAREER

The Castaldos are originally from Long Island, N.Y., and spent more than 40 years there before making their way to West Tennessee by way of a pit stop in Arizona. A self-described lifetime operations guy, Castaldo said he tired of the corporate life and started looking for what was next.

“We got back in church at Holy Cross Catholic Church, got involved with the youth program there. I was working with their social media, helping broadcast the services during the coronavirus. I’m an operations person, not a social media person,” he said.

Castaldo said they wanted to do something in the form of a business for the community. After considering opening it in Clarksville or Murray, they decided Paris would be a good fit and decided to open here.

Staying true to his background with the church, Castaldo also offers several Bible stories that can be experienced in VR, including Jesus turning the water to wine.

“You can hear all the preaching and teaching, but it makes an impact because you get to step outside yourself and experience something like that,” Castaldo said.

With seven liquid-cooled computers armed with Intel I7 processors and GE Force 1080TI video cards, Castaldo is well armed to entertain customers and private parties with his current array of VR games. But Castaldo still has an eye on how the business can evolve in the future.

“The games are fun, but there’s got to be a bigger purpose, whether it’s education or bringing people together,” Castaldo said. “We haven’t quite figured that out yet, but we will.”

Customers can walk in and play right away, if a booth is available, or they can reserve a booth online as well as peruse gameplay clips at matrixvrarcade.com. Booths can also be reserved by calling 407-7175.

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