When many people go on vacation, they want to soak in the sun on the beach or whack a few golf balls on the links. When gamers take a trip, though, they might want to spending the evening relaxing and playing some of their favorite games. Some resorts offer coin-op arcades with old cabinet videogames or a basketball shooting game, but nowadays these pale in comparison to current gen consoles and the connectivity of gaming PCs. Ultimately, unless you have a killer laptop or a predilection towards handheld systems, it’s difficult to scratch that gaming itch while vacationing. Spending so much time away from your hobby suddenly doesn’t feel like a vacation at all; it’s more of a curse.
The Ritz-Carlton Naples Beach Resort in Naples, Florida decided to change that. Former hotel manager, David Rothwell, conceived of a place where his guests could play videogames and access social networks in modern comfort. Rothwell had previously designed and implemented a children’s center called Nature’s Wonders, but that attracted mostly kids 10 and under, leaving the teenagers, too young to enjoy the spa or play golf, wandering around the resort with nothing to do.
“He actually had two boys around that age and he asked them, ‘Hey, what kind of things would you like to do?’ and they said ‘I want to play videogames,'” said the recreation director at the Ritz-Carlton, Kristina MacNicol. The resort had, at that time, a room called the Loggerhead Arcade, which was populated with cabinet games like Donkey Kong and Pac Man, but Rothwell wanted to “Pump it up.”
So they tore down the Loggerhead and replaced it with the VUE. “We actually coined the term VUE: Virtual User Experience. It really captures what the space is,” said MacNicol. “I like to refer to it as a Game Room 2.0. It’s pretty elevated in that sense.”
VUE has 3 Xbox 360s, 3 PlayStation 3s and 4 Wiis all hooked up to individual 40″ Samsung HDTVs. The room is sleekly designed with modern furniture in black and white, with green accents. The bamboo floors are a nice counterpoint to the “dramatically lit” column in the center of the room. It looks like the set of a Microsoft E3 presentation smashed into an Ikea store. Surrounding the column are 6 iMac stations where you can check your email or update your Facebook status. You can play Rock Band in one section or you can sign out Avatar on BluRay and sit back to relax in the more comfortable viewing lounge, with Bang & Olufsen surround sound and a 63″ LCD.
While VUE was designed with the teenager in mind, young kids and adults find themselves drawn to the space. “Most of the time, the four year olds know more about the Wii than even I do. I get beaten all the time by young kids in there,” MacNicol said. “They’ll come in and I’ll offer to set it up for them, but they’ll grab the controller and say, ‘No, I know how to do it.’ I tell the parents, ‘Don’t feel bad when they beat you at this game. It’s Mario Kart and you have 20 years driving experience, but they will beat you at it.'”
There is an ever-growing library of games to play in VUE which range from “E for Everyone” to “M for Mature.” Parents can sign off on which ratings their kids are allowed to play, but MacNicol makes sure that they are aware that other kids may be playing M-rated games in the space. “We’ll make sure that your child will not play [M-rated games], but they are being played here. I haven’t had any issues with that at all,” she said.
There are some games that MacNicol just doesn’t allow. “Although it’s fun, I don’t let Grand Theft Auto in there,” she said. “We make sure that [the violence] isn’t too, too bad. Of course, we have to have Modern Warfare 2. I actually had to buy two copies because they loved it so much.” I wondered what the distinction between GTA and MW2 was and before I could even finish my question, MacNicol interrupted me. “Airport scene? You’re talking about the Russian airport scene, right? I can’t stand it. I always ask them not to play that scene because … it’s just wrong. I can’t believe they have that in there.” It’s a subtle difference, but she’s the one making the rules. “If it scares me, then I’m not going to let the kids play it.”
VUE also keeps very limited hours. It’s only open from 3pm to 9pm, which doesn’t seem like a lot of time to get your gaming fix. But MacNicol said that many parents were thankful of the truncated hours because it only gave the kids something to do during the evening when the older folk might want to have a romantic dinner alone. Of course, the hardcore gamers who want to stay up all night are left in the lurch. But if you have the dough, VUE is available to book for private parties and events.
At first, VUE was complimentary to anyone who forked over the cash to spend a night at the resort, which can be as high as $300 a night depending on the season. But as of this March, they started charging $10/day for the older kids who spend hours and hours playing games. “It’s for upkeep. The cost of technology gets higher and higher. The VUE gets used a lot and I’ve gone through several plastic guitars for Guitar Hero,” MacNicol said. “Then there’s the games; kids request games and we always try to get what they want. We don’t want the old stuff, we always want to get new [games] that they haven’t been able to try out.”
MacNicol’s commitment to providing a modern gaming experience is definitely paying off. For many families, the onus of choosing a vacation spot isn’t on the parents at all. “The teenagers kind of dictate where they are going to go. They’ll go to our website and say ‘Look they have a game room, Mom. I want to go there,'” says MacNicol. “Some kids actually bring their own games with them. And I ask them, ‘Do you normally bring that with you?’ and they’re like ‘No, I saw that you had a game room and I wanted to make sure that you had this game.'”
For many hotel guests though, the change from the old school arcade was a little abrupt. They missed the Loggerhead Arcade, and were sad that they couldn’t drop in tokens in order to gobble power pellets or leap barrels anymore. “When we first opened a year ago, I did have some guests come back with their tokens that they’d found in their luggage and were saving to come back. They walk into the VUE and are like, ‘Okaaay,'” MacNicol says. “When I go into detail and tell them everything that they can do, the kids are already on the iMac. ‘Ok, Mom and Dad, I gotta update my Facebook status now.'”
Sorry, Pac-Man, Q-Bert and the beleaguered bartender from Tapper. The torch has been passed. The VUE at the Ritz-Carlton Naples Beach Resort is the Arcade 2.0.
Greg Tito might actually enjoy playing in the Loggerhead Arcade.