How the Best Game Developers Create Engaging Stories in Virtual Reality

Record and Phonograph in Virtual Reality game

 

This year at the Tribeca Film Festival, thirteen movies were showcased which were filmed entirely using virtual reality cameras.

The lineup of VR animated movies, documentaries, and graphic novel adaptations were designed to showcase the potential for building narratives in VR, and touched on a variety of interesting concepts, including meditation and the sensation of blindness.

These experiences were generally well received, with audiences expressing an interest in the future of narratives in virtual reality and how the experiences that storytellers can create will differ from what’s come before.

Which is exciting, because over the past two thousand years, storytelling has remained more or less the same—new technology such as moving pictures and recorded audio, while amazing, still didn’t have the power to let audiences enter the world of their narrative.

VR has changed this—especially in the video game medium, where players are able to impact the story they’re being told. There’s a lot of potential for unique storytelling in VR, and the narratives in VR games are going to be unlike anything players have ever experienced before.

Immersion Creates Emotion

By this point, it pretty much goes without saying that virtual reality’s main draw is its immersive nature, and the way that a high level of VR believability elicits a significant emotional reaction from the player.

The draw of storytelling through virtual reality is the idea that, rather than passively watching a narrative unfold from a distance, audiences are thrown right into the middle of the action. This means that when drama occurs or action gets intense, it feels all the more inescapably real for the player.

Scientists have argued that the power of VR in affecting the viewer’s emotions comes from their level of control – audiences in VR movies have the opportunity to control the ‘camera’ view as they see fit by turning their head, making the experience of taking in a narrative a less passive and therefore more believable experience.

In VR gaming, the level of control is even greater, as players are also able to interact with items around them. The more a player feels a part of the scene, the more the story will resonate with them and the more they’ll get sucked in by the narrative.

Surrounded By Story

Because of the unique way that VR envelops a player, games in a VR space can experiment with the way the player experiences the story.

In VR, the player is always at the center of everything that’s on display—this means they’re right at the heart of a story at all times and can turn to see their surroundings whenever they choose. Through the use of this viewpoint, game designers aren’t limited to placing everything important directly in front of the player—characters can enter from behind, and significant events can occur across an entire room that the player is able to navigate.

The smart game developer will use this vantage point to build up the nuance and complexity of the narrative. An event occurring behind the player’s back can create a plot twist that the player has to physically turn to experience. These events can be signposted for the player through the use of sound, with noises prompting the player to turn their head to discover the next element of the story. As gamers learn the way that sounds can tip them off to changes in the game world around them, this will lead to greater levels of alertness as players focus not just on what they can see, but what they experience.

loading human vr game alice character
Every little interaction with Alice in Loading Human progresses the story.

Interactivity in VR is Moving (Literally and Figuratively)

These ideas for creating VR narratives are only the beginning: through utilizing the unique tools available in VR such as sound, motion, and perspective, game creators will be able to create new and interesting forms of storytelling that haven’t yet been discovered or explored.

But one of the most powerful things that VR games can do it put players in control, both of their surroundings and of the plot of the game.

While sandbox titles like Grand Theft Auto provide freedom, and choose-your-own-adventure titles by studios like BioWare allow players to impact the narrative of the game, there’s a greater opportunity for allowing players to make choices in VR. Instead of choosing the outcome of an interactive movie, players experience the impact of their actions firsthand, and as a result become far more invested in seeing how their choices play out.

Players affect the story in Mass Effect
BioWare games like Mass Effect give players the freedom to dramatically affect the story’s plot. (Source: Gamerant)

 

Games like Loading Human are impactful because they use VR to augment player freedom—as difficult as it is to ignore a crying character in a VR simulation, it’s even more impactful when the character has spent the last few hours talking directly to the player, and the person playing the game has looked into the eyes of a friend who is now undergoing an emotional experience. It’s all the more emotionally resonant when the player has had a hand in choosing the way the game’s events have unfolded: it’s this level of realism that Loading Human provides, which has been unattainable in videogames of the past.

It’s Okay to Shed a Tear

Virtual reality is a powerful experience, and there’s plenty of opportunity for game developers to create impactful, emotionally resonant moments in their games.

To do so, developers should be aware of the place their players have within the games, putting them at the heart of the story and letting them choose for themselves how to approach the game’s many twists and turns.

In doing so, VR games will take advantage of the player’s uniquely central position within games and will produce the most heartfelt, enjoyable experiences possible.

To experience an emotional story in virtual reality, preorder Loading Human today.

 

David Bridgham

Producer, Gamer, Musician, Sports Car Enthusiast, Slow Jogger.

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