Modern virtual reality has been hailed as the future of Hollywood entertainment, our science fiction fantasies come to life. But there’s an ongoing problem: most VR experiences just aren’t that interesting. Hampered by evolving hardware and a medium with no set rules or audience expectations, most virtual reality experiences come off as either glorified tech demos, or simulacra of other, more established types of content. They’re usually riffing on stories that would be better told as short films or traditional games.
It’s partially a matter of storytelling conventions. Cinema has had more than a century to develop its own language of shots, cuts, and transitions, while storytelling in VR is still in its infancy. Creators are still figuring out what the medium can even do, let alone how to best take advantage. But virtual reality is only one small sliver in the much larger continuum of immersive entertainment. Real-world entertainment experiences have been evolving in their own right, developing their own unique approaches to storytelling. In the process, they aren’t just engaging audiences — they’re showing the way forward for virtual reality.