Greetings from Russia. I had a fantastic experience this week that highlights the possibility of VR storytelling. I was playing a new zombie game from Anvio VR in Moscow. You have to fight your way through an office building, going from floor to floor in an elevator. In one of the levels, you have to find and turn on a generator. When you flip the switch, the lights come on, and you realize you’re in a nightclub. Disco lights flash in all sorts of color and dance music starts blaring from speakers everywhere. The noise wakes up the zombie hordes, and the battle ensues.
After clearing the zombies, I noticed that there were two zombie go-go dancers on a stage in the distance. Still being in a trigger happy mindset, I shot one of them, and she slumped to the floor.
I immediately felt a wave of emotion. “Why did I do that?” I asked myself. She was of no danger to me, she was just dancing and entertaining and doing her thing. My partner then shot the other girl, and I yelled, “Noooo!”
We went on to complete the game, but the emotion from that scene stuck with me. As I reflected, I realized the feeling I was experiencing was “shame.” I retold this story several times during the week, as I met with different companies and development teams. Each time I felt that same wave of emotion and would tear up a bit. It was potent.
What the developer did in this game was to set the conditions for me to experience powerful emotion, and upon reflection, learn something about myself. I don’t know if they did it intentionally; maybe it was just a gag. “Hey guys, lets put some zombie strippers in the level, that will be cool and funny!” But sometimes great innovation happens by mistake. Ever heard the one about 3M Post-it Notes?
VR can be a transformative technology. The line between fantasy and reality can be razor-thin. In this case, I was able to dance with my own shadow and come out more self-aware.
I’ve been saying that for a story to resonate in virtual reality, it cannot be the telling of someone else’s story, which has been the hallmark of storytelling since the beginning of time. When a user enters a virtual world, they’re at the center of it. It needs to be their story for the whole scene to make sense. If I am floating in a room watching someone else’s story unfold, I feel like a peeping tom. “Why am I even here?”
Put me in a scene, and let me explore my own story. Let me be the hero of my adventure. Force me to make decisions that challenge my beliefs about myself and others. VR is a new medium, and its time for a new type of storytelling.