Guidelines for the New World: Narrative Drama in VR

Guidelines for the New World: Narrative Drama in VR

The following is a list of my own notes that will hopefully be of help to other adventurers exploring the new terrain. As with all art and entertainment there are no “rules that can’t be broken”, with one exception: Don’t be boring.

The audience is in the middle of the stage.

This has never happened in the history of storytelling. All of our arts and drama have drawn a distinction between the space occupied by the audience and the performance space. Successful violations of this relationship have been few and far between.

The audience doesn’t give a shit about your stage directions.

No matter what is happening in the story, whether two lovers are having a passionate reunion or two enemies are killing each other, a percentage of the audience is going to be looking the other way. Maybe we should give them something to look at?

As an audience member, if you try to force me to look somewhere or do something, I hate you.

You need to seduce your audience even more than ever before. Stereo 3D suffered from a problem of needing to second guess where the audience was going to want to look (with the illusory depth of the frame) and set the focus appropriately. VR needs to second guess how the audience is going to react physically as well as psychologically and set the scene to take advantage of that. Trickier to an exponential degree (and hardly anyone got it right when it was just 3D). You must create a desire in your user to fulfil the needs of the story in each and every scene. Just like any other seduction, if you inhibit, if you forcefully coerce, or if you flat out push me, I’m going to get frustrated and angry. Subtlety and playfulness are the keys here.

Everything needs to be motivated.

Just like in film, every choice needs to be motivated by the story, the characters, or the story world itself. The camera is first person pov: why? You want to cut to a wide-shot (you can, despite popular belief that you can’t edit in VR): why? You want a character to move closer to the camera so you can achieve a “close-up” effect: why would they? The thinking and approach to storytelling is the same, but the tools are a little different. You wouldn’t place the camera on the floor during a scene of a TV show unless there was some reason behind it, whether emotional or narrative. VR is exactly the same.

A couple of technical notes.

Create guides within your story world. Don’t throw on UI unless there’s a narrative reason to have those elements.

Put things everywhere for your audience to experience. If someone wants to spend the whole time staring at the back wall, how can you engage and redirect them? Don’t ignore them.

Utilize stage production and stage-magic techniques.

Write two or more scripts, one for the A story and one or more for the background/non-central action. This will let you use standard formatting and timing techniques in your scripts.

Divide your location into quadrants or other divisions and use the camera position at the start of the scene to set orientation. Forward = North, behind = South, and then degrees of elevation and declination from eyeliner to horizon.

Good luck, and let me know your thoughts below.