It seems odd to us now, but before the invention of the television, families would gather around radios as their preferred method of entertainment. Before the radio, folks would pack movie houses to watch silent films from the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. This, again, seems very odd to those of us living in the age of surround sound-enabled, 4k-resolution spewing, massive televisions inside living rooms.
Changes in technology always bring about changes in entertainment. A newly released immersive experience called VR Noir demonstrates how virtual reality could make sitting on a couch passively looking at a television seem as strange to our future selves as watching a movie with no sound.
VR Noir is a 360-degree film with interactive elements created by the Australian studio Start VR. The experience hits all the necessary beats of its namesake genre: the rumpled ex-cop P.I., the mysterious femme fatale and an even more mysterious murder to unravel. However, all of these familiar beats seem fresh and innovative in this immersive new medium.
Let’s be clear: if VR Noir was a standard television show it would not be considered that great. After watching it for myself, I’ve concluded that the performances are fine, but clearly amateur, the plot is on the flimsy side, and the twists feel lackluster. But the quality of the story and content isn’t what’s most important about this particular piece of filmmaking — it’s how it uses the technology.
As events unfold in VR Noir, you’re given agency within the narrative. You can choose to ask a client more questions, or simply take a case. You get to take control of a spy camera as you stake out a mark on a rooftop. And above all you get to experience a story as the main character, as opposed to simply watching from the sidelines. In this way, it carries forward the torch that GONE lit before it.
This nexus of interaction, immersion and narrative has the potential to become the de facto delivery system for entertainment in the future. VR Noir‘s producer, Nathan Anderson, laid out his commitment to this new style of production in an official statement accompanying the app’s release.
“We wanted to explore how film and gaming VR experiences they could live together,” Anderson said. “Can you have a cinematic experience that also allows you to have some agency in the outcome? My career quest is to find the convergence of storytelling, game design and interactivity.”
VR Noir is available now to download for free on Android and iOS for Google Cardboard and on the Oculus Store for Samsung Gear VR.