August 23rd, 2017

How Conventional Cinematic Narratives Fare with Immersive Virtual Reality Narratives

Witnessing vs Experiencing

What lures a consumer the most. A world that they can witness or the one they can experience? Perhaps this is one of the biggest present day challenges in front of establishments and content creators. The latter quality has had tremendous fame over the past few years with the uprising of Virtual Reality. It is true in most cases that when you are involved, you are influenced. But still, there are some situations where you would prefer to be a spectator than a player. Or rather, it is easier to be an observer than a participant. And of course a consumer would always prefer the easier route. For example let us take the case of a typical cinematic narrative and a Virtual Reality narrative. What will you go for. Would you prefer to wear head mounted displays and transport yourself to another world or would you rather just enjoy a narrative by remaining an outsider? Interesting muddle, isn’t it? After all, the only question is how one can enhance his amusement. So, let us take a look at how cinematic narrative fares with immersive narrative.

Conventional Cinematic Narratives, srushti imx

Immersing can be Isolating

One of the pleasing aspects of watching a film is the people with whom you watch it! It is not just the content that we care. If you are watching Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s ‘Before’ series, you need your loved one with you. If you are watching the ‘Hangover’, you would love it when your crazy gang is alongside. So, a movie becomes a completely fulfilling experience only when you have someone to watch them with. Even if you have hit a movie hall alone, you don’t watch it all alone! The people, though they are strangers and their reactions add to the entire enjoyability of the movie. This is where Virtual Reality takes a serious blow. The experience in VR can be quite isolating. Yes, you can be transported to the world of the story and you can even interact with the characters. But, that is not anywhere near the feel of your loved one resting on your shoulder with her hands folded in yours! You can have your partner and your friends with you, possibly as avatars in the VR space too, but once you are disconnected from the real world that surrounds you, you don’t really get the same level of excitement. So, the very feature of transporting a user to another world can be a bit of a backfire when it comes to plot driven narratives such as movies. Most of us watch a movie to spend some quality time with the people we care and not to literally teleport ourselves to another world.

Come as you are

Immersive experiences do not vouch for “come as you are”. You need to be equipped with devices like Head Mounted Displays and you will have to plug it into a gadget like smartphone. Whereas, if you want to hit a movie hall or watch one in your DVD player, all you have to do is, be there. Well, yes for a 3D movie you might have to wear glasses but not all movies are 3D. In fact, even while watching a 3D movie, how many times have you tried to take your glasses off because you were feeling a little uneasy? Now imagine if you are equipped with a big gadget like HMD! Further, immersive experience is just not the right option when it comes to longer narratives. Most of the virtual reality programs today have very short durations due to the complications involved in viewing them. A time span of 30 minutes can be asking too much for even an experienced person and for a first time viewer, it takes some effort to get adjusted with the virtual world. The complexities doesn’t end there. The kind of experience you have depends upon the headset you wear. And their compatibility and purpose differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some are designed for simple games and experiences while some others for intense experiences. Then comes the software that is being played. And then, the age of the user. Young children and old people might find VR a very tiring and uncomfortable experience. There are no such troubles with the typical cinematic narrative. Be it the Ben-Hur or the Lord of the Rings that stretch more than three hours, you can still be glued on to the narrative without any hazards at all. You will not have to attach yourself with all the complex wearables. All you need is a Television and a DVD player and you are good to go. There are no compatibility issues and it can be watched by anyone including your three year old little one and the Grandfather in his eighties.

But having said all that, one mustn’t forget that every new innovation had a set of major drawbacks in its preliminary stage. The first USB flash drive had just a storage capacity of 8mb when it reached the market late 2000. Now, it is up to 500GB and even 1TB! The initial hard disk diameter was 24 inches and now is down to 95-65 millimeters. Before the arrival of pocket size cell phones, we know the kind of huge desk phones we had. So, in the future, all these obstacles of Virtual Reality might easily be solved. Nanotechnology is the call of the hour and very soon, we might need only small wearable eye lenses to enter the VR domain.

Differentiate from Gaming

There is a protagonist. He has a goal. There is an antagonist that is preventing the protagonist from achieving his goal. The protagonist faces problem after problem, is under massive threat to lose someone or something that is valuable to him but finally emerges the winner beating all odds. Now, this is what movies are about. This is what we want to see when if it’s a movie. If the plot is driven around a user, if a viewer is immersed in the story world that his actions take the story forward, it would sound more like a game and not a movie. The very reason why movies connect with people is because that world is non existent! It is a replica of our world or an imaginary world that has characters that resemble our life and emotions. That is what make movies special. We have to reach out for the characters. And not literally! The fact that we have no control over them is what gives movies the kick. You are sorry for your character’s loss and you want to see how he gains back everything he lost. You don’t want to help him or be with him. You just want to know how he does it! Similarly, you want the cop to catch the baddie and survive all the death traps that lie ahead. You are curious to see how he does it but you don’t really want to be involved in it. If you are involved, it is more like a high end fancy game and not really a movie.

Excitement in rewatching

A great movie is worth watching again and again. All of you might have at least a dozen movies in your favorites category that you never get bored of watching. A particular scene or dialogue might bring all charm back to your dull day. Every time you watch it, the characters, situation and the moments in the story remain the same but you still find it appealing. Now, in an immersive scenario, would you like to go back to the same place again and again? The restaurant where your characters first met, the street where the thrilling chase took place or even the space shuttle in which your hero went to Mars. How often would you come back to these places? Today, when you are planning a leisure trip, do you plan the same location again and again? Purely by human nature you will find such places unattractive after a while. This is somewhere the classic cinematic narrative holds a big advantage. Every time a television network screens your favorite movie, you would curiously await its airing time. But if you have been to Bangkok ten times, you may not find excitement in winning a free holiday trip there. You can always come back to books and movies with the same level of enchantment. But if you are teleporting yourself to the story world, there is every chance that you will lose the enthusiasm after a couple of outings.

Storytelling – What lies ahead

Man has always loved hearing stories. From the historic epics, to books and modern day movies and television shows, we have always found excitement in the ways stories are being told. Like everything else, storytelling too has to go through a continuous process of evolution. Virtual Reality, the big future that awaits us will have a significant role to play in storytelling hereafter. But all that is good should and will continue to thrive. There are some elements in the classic narrative style for which we do not have a better replacement. While we embrace the technology, it is important to keep them intact. The future of storytelling could well be a mix of tradition and innovation!


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