Created by: Aaron Bradbury (director), NSC Creative
Released December 2018
Available for: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality
Vestige is a VR piece on the exploration of grief and the loss of a loved one. In the experience, we listen to a woman talk about losing her late husband, while actors reenact the scenes she describes. The actors were filmed using volumetric capture and then stylized into patterns of glowing lines against a dark background, which weave into different scenes as the narrator cuts between different stories and memories of her husband.
These stories were retold in a yearlong series of interviews with the creator, Aaron Bradbury. Some are memories of him triggered by small things in her life; others include her experience while in the hospital with him, her feelings of grief, and trying to find new meaning in her life. In the moment that she talks about his death, his image “shatters” into fragments and memories, which surround the user.
I thought the volumetric capture and art style added greatly to the emotional realism of the narrator’s experience. Very much like when we try recalling memories, not all details in the scenes are available to the user, such as the actors’ faces or the set, which are hazy, fade in and out of view, and flicker like static. But certain objects or scenes that evoke stronger emotions from the narrator are depicted, for example the hospital room, which highlights what the narrator experiences when she describes seeing these memories over and over. It feels as if you have been ‘dropped’ into the space where she keeps all these memories of her husband, and it feels quite different from simply reliving them as they are told.
Personally, I also found the music very convincing. I thought it helped me to experience her story more deeply, as I was able to feel the changes in the narrator’s emotions through the changes in the music. During the climax, her husband’s death, the music, alongside the visual barrage of memories, gave a
physical component to the overwhelming emotions that the narrator herself felt.
Some things I thought did not work as well were the interactions. I did not pick up on cues for where to look, and when the scenes transitioned or faded to black, I did not know whether it was appropriate to look away. I also did not know to physically interact or how to interact with the scenes, and I did not realize until afterwards that my interactions would end up changing the experience. When listening to this kind of personal story, I want to be a more passive observer, and so I didn’t feel very compelled to walk around, face away from the main narrative, or ‘interact’ with the narrator’s memories.
This might not really be an issue though, since there is no wrong or right way to experience to this kind of story. In real life, your memories of or with a person are not chronologically organized, and you wouldn’t necessarily recall the same memories each time. I also don’t think that being conscious of your interactions or influence on the experience is necessary for this story.
But for the purpose of conveying what this experience is trying to convey, I think that supporting some amount of user interaction might have been unnecessary work for the creators. It is an interesting feature, but since the topic is so heavy, I don’t think that this is the kind of experience that I would come back multiple times to just to figure out the different ways that it might play out. Additionally, hearing more stories or learning more information about her husband would not add much to the emotional experience that the creators are trying to capture.
Overall though, I thought that VR was an especially special medium for telling this kind of story. While the narration itself is already very personal, the physical aspect of the VR experience really helps evoke empathy and a stronger emotional response from the user.
Some questions: For this kind of emotional narrative, what might user interaction help to add? Or, what kinds of user interaction might be appropriate?