Thursday, April 9, 2020

Virtual Reality: The Ultimate First-Person Narrative

Even if you are not a gamer, VR advancement is taking the storytelling experience to a completely new level . . . and everyone, especially writers, should take notice.  ♦ 
With the advent of the virtual reality headset, or “VR,” nerds, geeks, and gamers everywhere are rejoicing. Most of the public knowledge about VR revolves around how it will be useful to companies, designers, engineers, and the medical community. It will be revolutionary for so many aspects of our lives, but there is one part that is less publicized: the gaming experience. Whether you grew up watching a Star Trek series with their “holodecks,” got hooked on Sword Art Online or just recently saw Ready Player One, chances are you were fascinated with the concept of a fully immersive game. There is something magical about finally getting to live in the world of the impossible. If you are not one of these people, then I promise you will be soon.

VR headsets are worn like goggles and, through the use of lenses, allow you to look at a screen that shows a 3D virtual world in which you can look around and move. VR sets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive come with cameras that map your movement in the real world and adjust your virtual world accordingly. Controllers are held in each hand and provide haptic feedback (physical vibrations) when you pick up an item or hit something in game. New technology is coming out every day to provide even more immersion. Tegway Co. LTD is prototyping gloves that will relay hot and cold sensations to the player’s hands. Imagine casting a fireball in a game and being able to feel the heat of the spell as it leaves your hands!

Usually for video games, there is a degree of separation between the gamer and their playable character. VR gets rid of this as the gamer bodily becomes the character. This means that, as games and storylines become even more immersive, games will need to account for the diversity of their players. Game writers will need to think of more ways to create storylines for a gaming experience that allows players more in-depth world exploration than ever before, and game designers will have to account for a 3D world where players aren't limited to a specifically curated perspective but will want to look around, explore, and interact with the virtual world, even more than in console games. Companies like Bethesda and Ubisoft have been making open-world games for years, such as Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Now, they'll have a platform that will allow this style of open-world gameplay to reach new heights.

If gaming is not your thing and you are wondering how this will apply to you, look no further than movies. With VR technology, movies will place a viewer inside the scene. Imagine a horror movie where you are standing among the group of scared teenagers as a chainsaw revs in the distance; perhaps you even get to choose which characters to follow if they split up. Movies will become less sedentary and more involved. There are already filmmakers experimenting with Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactive technologies in their storytelling, where friends can watch the same film and get completely different endings. Now consider how that might be integrated with VR, where your own interactivity with the world changes the course of the film. This opens up multiple dimensions and paths to storytelling that previously were not available to us.

This is uncharted territory for storytellers. Of course, traditional movies and video games will never be completely replaced, but writers are continually given more options for how to employ their craft. We should be looking to, and excited for storytelling where there is no fourth wall. Where viewers and players are not just controllers, but participators. In our search for escapism, VR will take the gold medal.

We live in the future of media consumption. The virtual sky is the limit and when we reach that, we can head for the stars. As of right now, VR technology is still a bit too expensive for the average American to own. However, much like how computers and cell phones became household and personal items, VR will make its way into homes across the country. We as writers should be prepared and ready to join to this opening market and adapt our stories to this new medium.

  • About the Author
    Kira Doebereiner is a soon-to-be graduate of Miami University with a degree in Creative Writing. She loves all things stone, mossy, and at least 150 years old. When she is not reading, she can be spotted during infrequent public appearances at a local restaurant’s trivia night, where she finally gets to use her minors in Classical Humanities and Art History.

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