I just recently watched Henry, from Oculus Story Studio and I felt that I had to write a short piece about the experience.
From the start, I felt confident in Oculus Story Studio’s approach – they encouraged me to sit on the floor while the story of Henry unfolded. This simple suggestion referenced imagery of young kids gathering round the teacher during story-time and as I sat on the ground, I was the kid. I was sat on a carpet waiting for the story to take me on a ride.
Now I was settled, Elijah Wood’s VO began to introduce Henry and his current predicament. Fading from black, I was now on the floor of Henry’s tree house while he was rummaging around in his kitchen. This was a nice trick of the storytellers as it gave me a few moments to look around and take in the scene, allowing immersion to happen more easily.
Incase you don’t know, Henry is having a birthday party but unfortunately nobody is showing up as they’re afraid our eponymous hedgehog will only want to hug them and end up spearing them with his spikes. I (as the viewer) was the only brave soul to bother showing up – I knew I was there in his presence as Henry looks at me at several key moments during the story. When Henry looks at you, he includes you and this really drives the sense of immersion. The VR piece would feel unnatural to have reaction shots or cutaways – for all intents and purposes, I was a spectator to his disappointment. That meant that for those few seconds when Henry looked at me at the peak of his rejection, I felt as though I should do something to comfort him, to reach out and tell him not to worry – this really resonated with me. It was an emotional engagement which I’d not experienced before with an animated character.
Reflecting on my experience with Henry, I’m even more confident that storytelling in VR will unlock brand new connections between the audience and the characters. I hear a lot about “how will you know where to look?” but this wasn’t a problem for a moment with Henry. I know that telling a story in VR means learning a new language to tell it in but these are challenges to overcome, not obstacles to be defeated by. Besides, I was given time at the start to look around and get my bearings and when the action started, I followed it – I wasn’t drifting away and looking behind me for no reason – and I feel that this will be the case for many people consuming content in VR, if a piece is directed well, people will instinctively follow the action.