Immersive Gamebox’s new ‘Squid Game’ experience: It’s all fun and games…until it’s not – The Mercury News

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You take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from your brow. The clock is ticking, and there’s not a second to waste. Too many lives are on the line, and they’re all counting on you. You may be a player, but this isn’t just a game — it’s time to step up.
You’ll find those high-stakes thrills in Santa Clara at Immersive Gamebox’s new “Squid Game” experience, a digital adventure comprising six mini games that mimic the ones played by the characters in the hit 2021 Netflix series. (But here, nobody actually dies.)
It’s a unique immersive experience nestled right in that sweet spot between the totally digital world you’ll find at virtual reality gaming venues and the physical world of set design and character actors you’ll find at venues like the “Stranger Things” or “Bridgerton” experiences.
“It’s not your typical immersive experience,” says April De Leon, dual site manager for the game’s California locations. “It’s not a movie, it’s not VR, it’s not an escape room, it’s not an art show. It’s all of those things kind of mixed in one.”
The experience is its own gateway into the “Squid Game” world. It’s everyday people, competing in a cutthroat competition and desperate to come out on top. And thanks to Gamebox’s 3-D motion tracking technology, wall-to-wall touch screens and a Netflix partnership, you can spend a fun and very challenging hour as one of those players.
“In early conversations with Netflix, there was a lot of discussion and brainstorming,” says De Leon. Given that the show’s original storyline was structured around a game, turning “Squid Game” into a highly interactive, immersive game experience “seemed a natural fit.”
The setup runs like this: Every time you complete a challenge, a sum of Korean currency gets dropped in your piggy bank, but every time you lose, one of your players is eliminated. You start with a few hundred of those virtual players, but once the game gets going, those numbers start dropping, so keep an eye on your player tally.
The game’s first challenge is the classic Red Light, Green Light from playground days. You have to race to a designated spot in the room before time runs out (and hopefully without tripping over any of your teammates). If you get caught moving when the light is red, you’re toast — and these motion trackers are no joke! The slightest movement, and you’re out.
Dalgona, the cookie-cutting game where precision is key, is followed by Tug Of War, a task where teamwork is crucial.
Next up: Marbles, a spatial reasoning game that will test whether anything from high-school geometry actually stuck with you, then Glass Bridge, a simple memory game (or so it would appear). The final challenge is Squid Game, which sees you madly dodging enemies as you make your way through an obstacle course, before finally tasting the sweet relief of victory (and let’s not forget the cash … lots and lots of cash).
With an hour of anxiety-inducing challenges, all with devastating consequences, this experience may not be for the faint of heart. But it’s also not quite like the Netflix series, with its gruesome deaths. Unlike the show, this really is just a game. “There is violence of course, because of the nature of the show,” De Leon says, “and the idea is that your players are dying, when you lose a challenge. But it’s implied violence. There is no real, visible violence depicted in the game at all.”
That said, it’s hard to tell what’s more ominous, actually seeing players die, like you do in shooter video games, or having hundreds of people’s existences reduced to simple numbers on a screen, inching closer and closer to zero every time you make even a slight mistake. In today’s modern age, where we’re constantly seeing people’s lives summed up into statistics and infographics, easily dismissed with a swipe of the finger, the game might actually err closer to our current reality than some future dystopia. The game might not be viscerally gruesome, but there is a sinister nature to something hitting so close to home.

If the “Squid Game” experience seems too heavy for your taste, though, Gamebox does has plenty of other, more light-hearted fare in its library of games, from “Shaun the Sheep” to the first-ever multiplayer “Angry Birds” slingshot game.
One thing worth noting is Gamebox’s accessibility. Some virtual experiences —  games that use heavy gear, for example, and at-times disorienting headsets — can be difficult for some individuals. The only equipment Gamebox uses is a light visor and some arm and wrist sensors for motion tracking.
“The way we instill immersion through projection mapping and touch screen capabilities is a lot friendlier to various demographics than a lot of the other experiences out there,” De Leon says, “which is something we’re really, really proud of.”
All things considered, Gamebox’s “Squid Game” experience is entertaining, accessible and thrilling. I made it out with a majority of my players still intact and a whopping, albeit fictional, ₩74.90 billion in my pocket.
Bookings available between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily at Westfield Valley Fair, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Suite 2605, in Santa Clara.Tickets are $35 to $40 per person, and rooms can accommodate up to six people. Find tickets and more information at immersivegamebox.com.
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