The Pendulum, hyper-reality debrief

Ben

25 April 2018

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We’ve been excited by the immersive potential of VR since the Oculus developer kits first came out, and the Vault Festival seemed like the perfect place to do it and the festival were kind enough to let us experiment on their visitors. Now that the festival is over we thought we’d unpack it a bit more…

The Vaults lend themselves to gothic themes and so we started with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum but distilled through a lens of Eighties visceral  horror movies from Kronenberg to Hellraiser, along with the more recent technological dystopias of Black Mirror.

To deliver this we filmed a series of 360 episodes in different parts of the Vaults, including the cell that the audience members are held in. This is then delivered by an actor playing your captor who introduces the VR headset as the torture device – designed to read your brainwaves and  create your own personalised nightmare.

Many of the best fictional VR experiences created to date play with layers of reality like sleep and dreams, psychedlic trips and even alien abductions to increase the immersion and distort people’s perception. We used time instead – rewinding the history of the cell and showing what looks like you being brought into the cell moments before, then later going back further to discover a message left by the previous prisoner.

The key things that we were looking to experiment with, however, were the hyper-reality elements – using airflow, touch and smell to help augment the experience and even direct people’s attention. The key to this is the timing – which can make the difference between something feeling genuinely sinister and just a bit random, though people’s reactions to each of these elements are also incredibly subjective.

Ironically our experience is probably actually better suited to the people who do scare easily rather than horror fans – but we have discovered a huge amount through it and are pretty sure that if we do go with the horror theme again we could make something that would unnerve even the most jaded of horror fan – combining all of the above with more obvious embodiment, making you feel that you are in someone else’s shoes as something unimaginable is about to happen to them.

Responses to the production were very favourable – see some of the quotes at the top. People seemed particularly excited about the potential of the approach – and it’s the layering of reality and meta-moments that cross between different parts of the narrative or even reality that remains the most interesting to us.

Either way, hyper-reality is going to become more part of our already varied entertainment scene (for Tom Sawyer, London, the world!)…there is so much to play with and we are excited ourselves keep exploring the potential – and hopefully scaling up to allow greater time to get immersed in the world and more people to flow through it…

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