SEATTLE'S latest contribution to entertainment is something
decidedly unlike the ear-pummeling beat of "grunge" rock.
It is more like virtual reality turned upside down.
At a year-old nightclub called Entros, a woman is seated in
front of a black-and-white video monitor, frantically talking into
a microphone: "Go left! OK, straight ahead.... Stop!"
She is coaching her male friend through a series of tasks he
must perform in two adjacent rooms while blindfolded. Looking at
video images from a camera mounted on his head, she helps him find
a hidden key, open a door into the next room, complete a simple
jigsaw puzzle, and throw little beanbags through a hole several
The game, called InterFace II, uses a high-tech helmet that
looks similar to those used to create the computer-generated visual
experiences known as virtual reality. But this helmet leaves the
operator without vision, at the mercy of instructions transmitted
from his friend next door.
To Entros founders Stephen Brown and Andy Forrest, this game and
the club itself are about helping people have fun through contact
with other people.
"We are very concerned with how people socially interact in a
modern world," Mr. Brown says. "As society becomes more
hyper-efficient," with fax machines and superstores, automated
banking and at-home shopping, the result is often "less
opportunity for face-to-face social interaction."
Brown says returning to the modes of some earlier era is not his
goal, even if that were possible. But as the information
superhighway expands, he sees Entros as an "antidote."
Many people come just to eat dinner and watch the games. Other
visitors ignore the food and drink, paying only for a game-playing
pass. Some will meet new people here, while many stick with the
friends they came with.
Brown says the fundamental goal of what he calls "The
Intelligent Amusement Park" is that all these people, from
middle-aged professionals to hip college-age youths, have a good
But along the way, says Mr. Forrest, the game overseer, they may
do some social learning. He tells of one woman who thanked him for
a game that opened up a wonderful conversation with her husband
about their marriage. (In the game, she could speak to her husband,
but he couldn't speak back to her.)
At first glance, Entros's interior looks like a trendy
restaurant, dimly lit with tables surrounding a central grill, and
piped-in rock music. …