Her Story creator Sam Barlow isn’t impressed with the direction of VR for storytelling

Her Story

Speaking about the making of one of last year’s shiniest gems, Her Story, at GDC 2016, writer Sam Barlow touched on one of the main topics of this show, official or otherwise – the rise and application of VR. Far from an industry saviour, he doesn’t like it as a direction, certainly not a solo one, for storytelling.

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First, Barlow explains how he sees the purpose of narrative threads within games and how they affect players, “You have enough distance that you can apply [what you learn] to your own world, or think about the greater thematic picture, or how this relates to the current arc within the story.” Rather than a simple style, he thinks of it as the best way to express stories too. “This for me is, like, the core magic of storytelling. This, I think, is what people get out of storytelling. And so it’s very important for me that, when creating the story, we don’t think in terms of absolute.”

This is where the VR conflicts com in, Barlow saying that “That’s my skepticism – probably the wrong GDC to say this – about the end goal of VR and this idea that people have of the holodeck as being the kind of ultimate storytelling experience. I think a younger me would have loved that.

“But [now], this idea of a holodeck where you would be immersed entirely in the world of the story, surrounded on all sides by the story – I can’t imagine how I would have this kind of story experience, it would feel like a fake reality of some description, it’s not going to have this wonderful layer of simultaneous emotional thought.”

It’s an interesting point, but while Her Story isn’t designed for VR, it could be by pulling into the player character’s world more, letting you look around the evidence lock-up where the game is ‘set’. It would be immersive by making you believe the framing of the story more deeply, and that could help to encourage thought on how it applies to the real world without abandoning the FMV format that made it so popular, or purely surrounding you in a world. It’s just a room with a computer, same as before, but with a tiny amount more context.

There’s definitely a line where things cross into the kind of issues he’s talking about, but the challenge for developers, as always, will be finding where that is and avoiding or embracing it as they wish. For Sam, it doesn’t sound like whatever he does next will be using a headset.