The top of the hill is just up ahead. As I take my final few steps, I gaze upon the vast alien world that unfolds in front of me. I track the colorful landscape with my bare eyes before lifting my right hand to activate my scanning visor. It doesn’t take long for me to register the location of my target.
Only a few clicks away.
I make my way down the other side of the hill, cross a field of neon purple and blue flora and up to the clearing where the last bit of copper I need is found. Soon after, I’m repairing my ship and blasting off into orbit with the vastness of space right there in front of me daring to explore. If I were to tell you that I actually experienced this it would almost be a complete truth. This is but a fraction of what I’ve been able to enjoy in the universe of No Man’s Sky, a space exploration game with a VR mode that anyone with a headset and Playstation 4 or PC can try out.
It’s also the perfect example of what I believe the future of storytelling holds through immersive technologies. Were I to ask you what virtual reality means to you you’d either reference the crazy cool interface Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report or you’d tell me how XYZ first-person shooter would be super awesome in VR. While I feel that blowing up heads in a fully immersive environment would be a catalyst for me to never leave my home, I feel this is thinking too small.
Virtual reality by virtue of the sheer level of immersion it can achieve has the potential to blow every other storytelling platform clear out of the water. This makes sense when you consider that the storyteller’s ultimate goal is to fully engross you in their world, get to know their characters and accompany them on their journey. Imagine if you could be right there in the Shire celebrating Bilbo’s birthday before he passes the One Ring to Frodo. Now, imagine you’re the one convincing Bilbo to resist the ring’s call. Or what if you just urged him to do the opposite and take the ring for himself? You would no longer just be an invisible travel companion. You’d have director’s cut on what happens in the story altogether.
Andy and Larry Wachowski
"To deny our impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human."
You’re probably thinking that games have been doing this already. There are also several examples of books, movies and TV series that have made attempts at interactive storytelling. Rarely do any of these make it into the mainstream and there’s a reason for that. In none of these cases are you a living, breathing part of the world itself.
There’s just something visceral about viewing a world through the lens of a VR headset. It’s like when you see pictures of the Akropolis in Athens versus actually standing there amongst the ancient ruins in person. The former isn’t quite the same as the latter. This is the exact same feeling I get with No Man’s Sky. When I play on my really regular rectangular (I saw an alliteration opportunity, I took it!) monitor, I feel like an observer. In VR I’m a part of the game’s universe.
Every little piece of alien civilization I uncover feels like it’s been done by me. I’m not just interacting with aliens, I’m communicating with them. I don’t just see space around me from the cockpit of my ship. I’m in the middle of it. The bases I build are no longer just a game mechanic; they’re a piece of my own creativity planted within that universe. And that surely must be the next big storytelling frontier. Not just experiencing a story, but living it and leaving a part of yourself within it.
Below are a few science fiction titles to explore. Enjoy!
Yannis is a veteran gamer with over 25 years of experience across the spectrum of genres. He enjoys spending time with his family, livestreaming on Twitch and occasionally dishing out unsolicited dad advice. Also catch him on IG.