A Fly on the 4th Wall: When VR Scriptwriting Transcends the Barrier
The Invisible Hours is a VR game by Tequila Works which unravels a murder mystery story as a piece of immersive theatre. "So what!?" I hear you cry. Well, it manages to do so through some of the finest dramatic scriptwriting I've encountered in a video game, and certainly the best I've yet seen in VR. It's worthy of Agatha Christie: a masterpiece of character-driven storytelling (aka Drama). But what's really impressive is that it creates immersion without us embodying a character.
Once again this is a not a review. The aim of this blog - Strictly Immersive - is to chart my journey - as actor/writer within "4th wall" drama - into immersive storytelling...
OBSERVE, TRUST, EMBED YOURSELF IN A MURDER PARTY.
As an invisible audience member, you don’t just sit and watch. Instead, in Virtual Reality, you explore freely. You can follow any character at any time. You can go anywhere in the entire mansion. You have total freedom to explore each character’s story – to see how they all interconnect and to untangle the truth from their web of lies. Even the detective is a suspect...
We arrive at a country mansion following a 'guest' detective, just as the host is found murdered. He immediately gets to work questioning the 7 guests individually. Immersion is clever, because you don't actually embody any of the characters. Although you have freedom of choice, you feel compelled not to miss a moment of each of their journeys. The dramatic writing is first class. Character motivations are deeply entrenched - hence elusive - and exposition is revealed expertly when the stakes are raised sufficiently through character choices. In turn, these lead to extremely satisfying turning points in the plot, cleverly bearing fruit in time for the act climaxes. The inter-connected story IS the game, resorting to neither melodrama, nor the lazy comic book tropes which populate most narrative-led video games.
What's the immersive technique being used here which differs from traditional screen and stage? What gives us - the audience - the illusion of agency or choice? Could it be that we have replaced the cinematic cut and linear structure with continuous action and overlapping narratives? Or the single-protagonist replaced by a plot with multiple 'equal' characters, none of whom will stay in one scene nor wait their turn to come onto stage in an orderly fashion? As in real life, events happen simultaneously and we are encouraged to embrace this uncertainty. There is always a nagging doubt that we are missing something. If we switch to following the actress, will we miss some important secret about this inventor? And what is the heir to his father's fortune hiding? But wherever we focus, each character is just TOO suspicious and their unravelling story so intriguing and alluring. A dramatic conflict wells up within ourselves. It means you are no longer simply the audience, but you have become... an actor. Eh? What?
In drama, the inner and outer conflicts which are experienced by a protagonist are embodied by an actor. Feeling this conflict helps to provide us with the emotional connection for the actor to inhabit the role and the story world. It is the actor's meat and drink. Now you know how it feels!
Feel the conflict. Embrace the struggle. Welcome to our tribe... :)