The three founders of Canada’s first virtual reality arcade, Ctrl V, couldn’t be more different. Ryan Brooks is a former elementary school teacher, James Elligson practiced geology, and Robert Bruski is an investment specialist.
But what drew them together, aside from their love of realistic virtual (VR) reality technology, is a shared desire to give back to the communities they serve.
Since opening the first Ctrl V in Waterloo, Ontario in 2016, the trio has hosted a number of charitable initiatives, including the 24-Hour Virtual Reality Charity Event. Every year, for at least six months, they work closely with Extra Life – an initiative in which thousands of video game players around the world host fundraising and gaming marathons in support of local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals – to fine-tune the logistics and put the event together. Then in November, over a two-day period, people from across North America united at Ctrl V’s event to play VR games in support of sick and injured children at their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
“This year, as a company, we were the 13th largest contributor to the events,” says Brooks, who privately supported Children’s Miracle Network years prior to starting his company. “It totally exceeded our expectations because we had goals, but every location doubled those goals. We raised nearly $50,000 this year.” (They only aimed to raise $25,000 this year).”In our first year we raised $7,000 and in our second year we raised $12,000.”
Regardless of how much funds they raise, 100 per cent of the revenue made during the event is donated to Children’s Miracle Network.
“It’s a pretty easy sell,” says Brooks, explaining why the virtual reality arcade’s franchisees are more than happy to run this event for the weekend. “For about 10 locations, it was the first time doing it this year so at first we thought this might be scary for them, especially as new business owners. But everyone was looking forward to it.” In addition to digital and radio advertisements, press releases, a countdown clock on the Ctrl V webpage, and newsletters, local owners told all customers coming into their location about the upcoming fundraiser months in advance.
“You couldn’t not know about it,” says Brooks. “Everyone who works for the company has shared values and one of those values is giving back to the community. It’s about building a better a community, that why our prices are the way they are. We’ve made it affordable to access VR, an expensive technology, and have made multiple impacts as a result.”
Through their partnership with Children’s Miracle Network, three SickKids patients played VR – shooting archery and defending castles – alongside Brooks’ brother, Josh (a former SickKids patient.) Ctrl V live-streamed the event and people made online donations that directly impacted the game. “We spoke to a developer to ask him if there was any opportunity to do something custom that would trigger something positive or negative in the game depending on the donation,” says Brooks. “It resonated so well with participants across North America that Ctrl V is considering doing something similar in the future.”
With 15 locations across Canada, Ctrl V is getting more and more people into VR with out-of-this-world gaming experiences. At Ctrl V franchises, people of all ages have the opportunity to simply slip on a VR mask and be transported to another world.
“One of the reasons why we obviously started doing this is to give people access to premium VR technology,” says the former schoolteacher.
Their biggest priority remains giving people a sense of community. Whether it’s winning an intergalactic battle with a friend or slaying fire-breathing dragons with a team, VR provides the opportunity to take a child out of a hospital bed and into another galaxy. It has the opportunity to bring people closer together. “People think that putting something on your head would be isolating, but it’s actually quite the opposite. 95 per cent of customers come with other people to share the experience together.”
By Trisha Utomi