Players race through the virtual reality of Mario Kart (Neely Ba/Bandai Namco Amusement America)

People have their own ways of coping with the stresses of life: wine, exercise, bubble baths, wine, meditation, wine. Whatever you do, the name of the game is removing yourself, at least for a moment, from a world that is finding new and creative ways to suck at a seemingly unstoppable rate. Usually, electronics don’t help — has anyone’s blood pressure ever gone DOWN after checking Twitter? But with virtual reality becoming more accessible (and enjoyable) than actual reality, there are some great ways to plug in and drop out locally.


Drivers play Mario Kart at VR Zone Portal's virtual reality zone at Union Station. (Neely Battle/Bandai Namco Amusement America)

VR Zone Portal Washington D.C.

The tech: HTC Vive

Main attraction: “Mario Kart,” in which four drivers compete in the classic game. This time, though, you can look all around you, the “car” underneath you moves, and you grab your turtle shells and other weapons with your hands, then fling them at people.

Also offered: “Ski Rodeo,” an immersive downhill skiing game, and “Argyle Shift,” an “interactive cinematic” game in which you shoot giant robots. There’s also a giant (non-VR) “Pac-Man” game.

Kid-friendly? Ten and up is the guideline, but kids have to be able to safely get into and manipulate the machines, so that’s the real determining factor. “Argyle Shift” has a female AI character who is not wearing very many clothes at all and keeps leaning over (she also won’t shut up).

Noob-friendly? “Mario Kart” and “Argyle Shift” are pretty easy; “Ski Rodeo” requires more skill.

Puke potential: You should be fine on “Mario Kart” unless you’re very susceptible to motion sickness. “Ski Rodeo” is more unnerving, particularly if you happen to ski backward off a cliff (this can happen; the screen goes white and you get another try). “Argyle Shift” can feel a bit claustrophobic, as you’re shut inside a virtual cockpit.

Mask comfort level: There is some nose squishing with “Mario Kart”; the others are quite comfy (you’ll also be wearing headphones for all three).

Physical sensation: You’ll feel wind blowing on your face in both “Mario Kart” and the skiing game; all three games also rumble beneath you and play appropriate sounds.

Production value: “Mario Kart” looks like the classic Nintendo game; “Argyle Shift” looks like very good anime; the mountains, snow and trees in the ski game are firm residents of the uncanny valley.

Special deals: No

Reservations required: No (and not accepted)

Level of difficulty: “Argyle Shift” is the easiest (shooting is fun, but doesn’t actually seem to affect the game that much, as I let several enemy robots crash into me with no apparent effect). “Mario Kart” would take a little more practice if you haven’t played it at home — since the game is so short, there is no learning curve. “Ski Rodeo” is the most challenging.

Teamwork: “Ski Rodeo” and “Argyle Shift” are individual games. “Mario Kart,” just like the home version, solely exists to destroy relationships between family and friends (you can also play with strangers).

Stress level: “Ski Rodeo” is intense, to the point the manager warned me to raise my hand if I wanted to stop — it seems people occasionally just leap off of the machine when it looks like they’re going to die.

Time commitment: About five minutes per game

VR Zone Portal Washington D.C., Union Station, lower level, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE; open through March, Mondays-Thursdays, noon-7:30 p.m.,Fridays & Saturdays, noon-8:30 p.m., Sundays, noon-6 p.m.; “Mario Kart”: $10 per play, “Argyle Shift” and “Ski Rodeo”: $8 per play.


Virtual reality and a traditional escape room combine at Insomnia Escape Room D.C.

Insomnia Escape Room

The tech: Oculus Rift

Main attraction: The “Oblivion” room, in which participants use problem-solving in real life, augmented reality and virtual reality to investigate the disappearance of a scientist.

Also offered: Three more traditional escape rooms, with more to come.

Kid-friendly? Great for 10 and up (the VR goggles might not fit kids smaller than that). Anyone under 14 must be joined by a parent and anyone under 18 needs a parent to sign a release.

Noob-friendly? The non-computerized part of the game would be enjoyable for everyone, but the VR section (which not everyone on a team has to do) would probably be too frustrating for people with no gaming experience.

Puke potential: Low. Players put on the mask (one at a time) only near the end to manipulate a motion-sensitive ball to complete the final puzzle. Since the player stands still, the nausea quotient is negligible.

Mask comfort level: Very light and nicely padded

Physical sensation: When you put the mask on, you can still see what looks like the room you’re standing in — but all your teammates have vanished. It’s not physically uncomfortable, but it is disconcerting.

Production value: The final puzzle looks like a really good video game, because it’s a really good video game. The real-life portions are very realistic because they are real.

Special deals: They host private events and offer birthday packages and a deal where the eighth person is free.

Reservations required: Yes

Level of difficulty: Depends on how smart your friends are

Teamwork: Required — you need at least two people. The more people you get (you’re allowed up to eight), the easier it all should be — and everyone who wants to will be able to get a turn with the goggles.

Stress level: Your friends are watching as you do the VR element — and no one can leave until that portion is done — so the pressure is on.

Time commitment: An hour

Insomnia Escape Room, 2300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 200B; prices vary depending on number of team members.


Get ready to work up a sweat when playing a virtual reality game at Augment Arcade (Augment Arcade/Augment Arcade)

Augment Arcade

Tech specs: Four curtained bays equipped with the HTC Vive

Main attraction: Each bay has around 25 games from which to choose; the choices rotate on a regular basis and include first-person shooters, sports, puzzle games and multiplayer options.

Also offered: A Nintendo Virtual Boy and an HTC Vive Pro, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. And there’s a bar!

Kid-friendly? Sorry, only 21 and up allowed. Because there’s a bar.

Noob-friendly? There are games for all levels, plus non-gamers can always just drink because there’s a bar.

Puke potential: Low, though don’t play too many games in a row — and watch the alcohol.

Mask comfort level: Comfortable, if a bit heavy

Physical sensation: You’re entirely immersed in a 360-degree world, plus you can move around at will (within reason; your headset is tied to the ceiling). Because many of the games involve dodging, punching, throwing or all three, you can and probably will build up a sweat.

Production value: Depends on the game. “Fancy Skiing” is frighteningly clear, especially when you slam face-first into giant boulders, and “Space Pirate Trainer” has the high-gloss look of a Pixar cartoon about murderous space drones. The characters in “Drunkn Bar Fight” are a little low-tech, but does that matter when you’re hitting them over the head with a digital bar stool?

Special deals: Private bookings are available.

Reservations required: You can purchase time at the door, but reservations are strongly encouraged.

Level of difficulty: One of the games (“Tilt Brush”) literally just involves painting. You’ll be fine.

Teamwork: There are multiplayer games (those require reserving separate headsets) but even in the individual ones your friends can help out by getting you another beer.

Stress level: Depends on the game you choose, but some will get your heart racing.

Time commitment: Anywhere from an hour to all day

Augment Arcade, 645 Florida Ave. NW; Wednesdays & Thursdays, 6 p.m.-midnight, Saturdays, 2-10 p.m., Sundays, 2-8 p.m.; reserved headsets: $60 for the first hour, $45 for the second; all-day passes (weekdays only): $60.