At This Club, You Put on the Show A Seattle Night Spot Uses Fantasy and Fun to Teach Adults Lost Skills of Social Interaction

Article excerpt

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 yards away.

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 time.

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. …