VR Storytelling with Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads
From the creators of the Inanimate Alice interactive story series comes a new foray into the VR world. Perpetual Nomads is an immersive and visually impressive short story that contains great potential for discussions on technology and human behavior. The entire experience takes about half an hour to complete and could easily be used in schools. While it can be played as a stand-alone experience it would most likely do better as an accompanying piece to the already-established Inanimate Alice series. This way, some knowledge about Alice, the environment, context, and references to the Inanimate Alice series would build up to and upon the narrative experience in Perpetual Nomads.
Regarding the story, it and the dialogue between characters are interesting and evidence lots of personality. The overall narrative of the story follows a fairly linear path and while there is interactivity, there seems to be no significant choices that the player can make to alter the outcome.
The strength of the storytelling in Perpetual Nomads, coupled with the immersive nature of VR, allows it to utilize a fairly mundane mechanic for moving a story along, reading texts on a phone. Normally, reading someone else’s texts would be relatively boring, however the suspense created by the visuals and audio soundtrack motivate the player to look for information in the dialogue. Also to Perpetual Nomad‘s credit, I found myself quite nervous at times that certain characters would jump out or come running towards me down an empty corridor. This is a good design choice, as having guided adolescents through VR before, I know there is certainly an attraction to suspenseful, thriller-type atmospheres.
Strangely, there is no hand interaction available for the experience even though it can only be used on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. On one hand, this seems beneficial if the creators ever want to easily port this over to Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Go, or even the Google Cardboard. On the other, it feels like a big miss when you are in the VR environment and the only interactivity is through gaze identification. This feels especially discordant when focusing on the random items lying around in the environment. Some are able to be zoomed in on but they can never be manipulated by the player.
If a school is lucky enough to have an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, then Perpetual Nomads could certainly be used as an in-class, educational tool. While one student is in the VR experience, others can watch a mirrored view of what the player sees. Or some kind of prolonged unit could be done with each student playing the experience individually and then coming together for discussion. Either way, for deeper conceptual ideas on society’s dependence on technology, human interactions through technology, appropriate behaviors and mindsets on social media, and our interpretations of what is true on the internet, proper scaffolding needs to be done by teachers. These topics could certainly be discovered on their own by students, but for full, critical, and rich discussions a guide would be most effective. As with any multimedia piece being used for educational purposes, on its own, Perpetual Nomads is entertaining and more or less effective with its message, but to identify deeper themes a deliberate effort must be made to reflect on the experience.