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The best gaming bars in London, from classic consoles to VR

 (Platform Gaming)
(Platform Gaming)

Scratch any thoughts of teens sitting in their parents' basements: these days, gaming is best enjoyed in groups. Whether that's the thrill of beating friends at MarioKart to strapping on a VR headset and fighting zombies, more and more Londoners are taking advantage of the gaming bars opening across the capital.

Not to be confused with arcades, these are places where you can sit down and have a drink (and nibbles) before loading up a selection of high-end consoles and playing against friends, or entering an immersive VR experience. From Squid Game competitions to virtual island paradises, here's our pick of the best.

Sandbox VR

 (Sandbox VR)
(Sandbox VR)

Located in a slightly clinical ground-floor space in the heart of Holborn, Sandbox nevertheless has plenty going for it in terms of VR. The downstairs area boasts several different gaming spaces where you can suit up with motion-tracking jackets and VR gear to play everything from the terrifying (the recent Squid Game Visuals spinoff is a particular highlight) to the even more terrifying (the zombie shooter Deadwood Mansion). A particular highlight is the (slightly fault-prone) robot bartender that will mix up a range of cocktails on the fly, right in front of your eyes.

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Platform Gaming

 (Platform Gaming)
(Platform Gaming)

Head to Platform for an arcade-style experience that combines the best of new and old. With branches in Shoreditch and Canary Wharf, players can check into a booth to play a fairly broad selection of both PlayStation and Nintendo Switch titles, spanning Mortal Kombat to Mario Kart. Platform does offer food, but its drinks selection is far better: their cocktails list is large and, even better, themed. The décor is very Americana – think lashings of neon and pleather seating – overall, perfect for parties.

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Navrtar

 (Navrtar)
(Navrtar)

Going for a drink has never been so fun – not only can you watch hordes of VR-headset-wearing people wander around aimlessly, but you can also don the headset yourself and experience what the company says is “the UK’s only 60-minute free-roam experience”. In other words, put on the headset and wander around a set space with up to 11 other people – there aren’t too many longer VR games to play (they range from zombie apocalypse to being part of a marine strike team) but with plentiful drinks and a number of shorter games thrown into the mix too, what’s not to like?

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Otherworld

The most surreal experience on this list? Maybe. The Otherworld experience (which has branches in both Hackney and Victoria) is billed as a “virtual island paradise”: by putting on your headsets, you’ll reunite with your friends in the virtual world before embarking on a series of games with them. Some of the games are great – the Tarzan-esque Windlands 2 – others (Google Earth VR, for instance), maybe not so much. But hey, the DreamCoin you earn in the experience will go towards the real-life prices of drinks and food at the bar.

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Loading

 (Loading Peckham)
(Loading Peckham)

A gaming bar in the most literal sense of the word, Loading functions primarily as a bar – albeit one where people can relax and play both board and video games. The rules are simple: as long as the drinks (alcoholic or not) keep flowing, the games are free, and given the scope of games on offer, that’s pretty good value. Flick between the Donkey Kong Arcade, the Nintendo Switch and an Xbox One X or some of the 80+ boardgames in the Stoke Newington branch, or head down to Peckham to try out the PlayStation classic.

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Meltdown

With bars dotted all over London – and indeed, the world – Meltdown has a decidedly more casual vibe than some of the other places on this list. It functions more as a place for gaming fans to come together over a pint, but it still has a fair amount of consoles and PCs available for gaming, plus a dedication to themed nights that makes it well worth a visit. Head along for Mortal Kombat tournament nights and Smash Ultimate head-to-heads; the drinks list is extensive and also surprisingly cheap.

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Immersive Gamebox

 (Immersive Gamebox)
(Immersive Gamebox)

It’s lighter on the bar and heavier on the gaming, but Immersive Gamebox is still a great way to spend a few hours. Up to six players can compete in one of the venue’s closed-off gaming booths, donning interactive headsets that will let them interact with the three floor to ceiling touchscreen walls. The games are fun (there’s a new Black Mirror experience which involves a lot of puzzle solving), the games themselves are a tight 60 minutes and best of all, you can order drinks straight to your booth.

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