From the outside, the strip mall on West Fox Ridge Lane appears to be a typical building in Muncie. However, once you step inside, you’re faced with countless possibilities.
The Rizzo family opened the virtual reality arcade, Reality Bytes, in July 2022, and their novelty idea has taken entertainment in Muncie to a new level.
“We really call it entertainment of the future, and it’s an opportunity to not just sit and watch a movie or just play a game, but you’re completely immersed in the experience,” Beth Rizzo said.
The Rizzo family got the idea for the arcade after a day with their son, Reality Bytes’ tech wizard, didn’t go as planned.
“My 13-year-old with autism, he had earned going to a VR arcade for good behavior, and so my husband drove 40 miles to go to the nearest one, and they were completely booked,” Rizzo said.
They decided to hatch a plan to remedy this problem for East Central Indiana residents.
Once the plan was in place, they still needed to come up with a name, so the family of six sat down and began brainstorming.
“We just kept hollering out different names, and my husband jokingly said, ‘Well, reality bites,’ and we were like, ‘Wait a second, that could actually work,’” Rizzo said.
With the family's research of the area turning up empty with affordable VR options, and the convenience of their proximity, the Rizzos knew Muncie was the ideal location for their new business.
“We actually live in Delaware county, and we know that people talk about how there’s not that much new stuff to do here in Muncie, so we said ‘Well, this is certainly new,’” Rizzo said.
The Rizzos love that they can provide a fun, multi-generational space for the community.
“Elementary-school-aged kiddos come in, and they have a ton of fun,” she said, “but adults come in, and they have just as much fun, so we have something for everybody.”
As members of the Muncie community take notice of the unique business, positive feedback for the family is beginning to appear online.
Jeremy Rees has lived in Muncie for over a decade and has been to Reality Bytes a couple of times. He enjoyed his time and left a five star review of the family business on Google.
“I’ve played Angry Birds, and it was kind of fun,” Rees said. “It’s just a different take on the normal mobile game, but you actually hold the slingshot. My daughter really likes [the game] where you get to be a store clerk.”
The arcade runs weekday specials occasionally and around significant events, such as 50 percent off for students in August. One of Beth’s highlights since Reality Bytes opened was when they were running their Free Time Friday special, which allotted 15 minutes of free game time for the community. Beth, who has four high-needs kids herself, was happy to help out parents with disabled children/young adults.
“They would drop them off to play, and the parents would go out and have a date night, which is really cool that we could provide them with an opportunity for them to get away and for their kids to have so much fun,” Rizzo said.
The systems Reality Bytes uses are the HTC VIVE Focus 3 headsets for quality and convenience. They’re known for their comfort, and they were a finalist for the virtual reality hardware of the year in the 2021 VR awards. They can be completely wireless, but if there’s a high volume, they can be tethered to fix latency issues.
“They’re pretty cool,” Rizzo said. “They have like eight cameras built into them, and they can track exactly where you are and where your hands are.”
One of Beth’s sons, Nathan Rizzo, works about 15-20 hours a week at the arcade, and he loves seeing people enjoying themselves.
“There are a lot of little kids that come in, and just seeing the smiles on their faces and seeing how much fun they have, and they’ll be talking to their parents like, ‘Do you see this?’” Nathan said, “and it just warms my heart.”
Beth invites everyone to head to Reality Bytes and experience a VR game for yourself, today. She also has a few tips for someone who has never experienced VR.
“Start slow. Don’t pick games that have a lot of movement and motion in them because if you’ve never done VR before, you don’t know if you get motion sick from VR, so we have barf bags,” Beth said. “Start easy, and then just try a bunch of different things.”
When it comes to game selection, there are over 1,000 different games to choose from.
“We really do have anything for anybody,” Nathan said.
Beth’s personal favorite game is a cooking game called Clash of Chefs.
“I also like Rhythmatic and Dance Collider, but I get motion sick really easily, so some of the shooter games, I like them, I can’t play them,” Beth said. “Hyper-Dash and Arizona Sunshine are some of the other staff members’ favorites. But I like to race the clock on cooking different things, and it really does feel like you’re there. It’s crazy.”
Nathan, who doesn’t get motion sickness, personally enjoys Hyper-Dash.
Reality Bytes is open Friday through Sunday, and you can call to reserve any of their eight pods for a party, to play as a group or just to escape reality for a little while. You can access a full list of their available games on their website.
With inflation and the current state of the economy, the family business is experiencing some hardships. As one of the only businesses of its kind in the area, the Rizzos hope to keep the business alive for people residing in East Central Indiana.
“The first thing to go is entertainment, and that’s totally understandable, it just also hits us pretty hard,” Beth said.
The Rizzo family dedicates a lot of time to their business to bring unique entertainment to the people of Muncie. In order for a small business like Reality Bytes to survive, they need public support.
“Right now, we’re trying to stay alive through the economic downtime, if you will, but we just really want to get the word out and reach the community,” Beth said. “We love the community, and that’s why we’re here.”
Contact Ella Howell with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ella_rhowell