Writing for VR? Three things to remember!

Over the last few days, we had the chance to sit down with Trey Bundy, a reporter from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Together, we are working on a story in VR and scripting is not an easy task. Our learnings.

Trey is currently covering stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses covering up child sex abuse cases and he has published a number of articles about the Watchtower’s court tactics, cases in the US, UK and Australia as well as stories evolving around a vicitm’s particular case. Throughout his investigations, he gathered vast amounts of material, including audio interviews, pictures, documents, and videos. Now, Trey wants to use his material and turn it into an episodic VR experience. This is where we come in.

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Trey Bundy and Stephan Gensch, working on a VR story

Over the last months, we have discussed in how far it might make sense to turn parts of his investigations into a VR experience. “Why?” you might ask. We all discussed similar questions:

  • When does it actually make sense to tell a story in VR? Which angles of the story can/ should we leave out?
  • In how far does this impact the users? What are some of the ethical questions we have to consider?
  • Do we have enough material to tell a story in VR? How do we publish the story?

When Trey came to Berlin last week, we sat down and started scripting a story for three different VR Episodes, we call this VRollytelling.

„I feel like I’m writing a script for a movie without ever having been to the theater“  – Trey Bundy

Writing for VR is very different from writing for any other medium. We realized that it is not so much about any technical challenges or thinking of whether we had enough material to use in VR. It was more about HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE USERS? This is important because

As a user in VR, you are no longer simply reading or watching a story, you become part of the story.

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From a journalistic perspective, this can mean a lot of great things (more engagement, possibly empathy, attention) but it can also stand for loads of problematic issues (how far can you go once a user is inside a story?).

While writing the script, these are three take-aways we’d like to share with you:

  • Stick to one concept of users’ perspectives. Regarding your user, make sure to pick one perspective of the user and stick to it. You can turn your users either into observers (then, a story can be told e.g. in a linear form) or protagonists (then, you can involve users into the VR experience by either talking to them directly or offering them interactive elements to play with). Switching perspectives can be overwhelming.
  • Think slow. Since VR still is a new medium to most, users often feel overwhelmed by the lack of visual limitations. They might turn around at all times, their curiosity comes with danger of missing out on the greatest parts of your story. Make sure to guide them not only from scene to scene but also from viewpoint to viewpoint. Should they turn left in order to understand the story? Might they be missing out on something if they don’t turn right at a specific moment? Give them visual or auditive clues, give them time to adjust to new scenes. Take your time to tell your story.
  • Be aware of the different platforms. VR can obviously be experienced on several platforms and HMDs. Make sure to keep that in mind while writing your script. If you want to provide your story on mobile, then users will use Cardboards. Different from the Oculus, users might not sit around and have time for the stories. Take that into consideration.

We are looking forward to working more on Trey’s vrollytelling. As soon as we are finished, we will of course share the experiences with you.

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