‘The Under Presents‘ was released just a couple of days ago on the Oculus Quest, and has been described as “A Novel Exploration Of VR And Live Immersive Theatre“ for its incorporation of live actors in a virtual reality space in an experience that is technically a multiplayer one.
Brought to the Quest by TenderClaws, in collaboration with the immersive theatre company PieHole based in New York, ‘The Under Presents’ is a somewhat confusing experience to describe. Even TenderClaws’ description doesn’t help a great deal.
“Think of it as a full single player timeloop based game with multiplayer components as a layer on top of it. There’s exploration, puzzle and narrative elements. As you discover the Under you may encounter some of our live roving performers.” – TenderClaws FAQ
Effectively ‘The Under Presents’ can be thought of as a portable immersive theatre experience in VR. Instead of you going to a space to be part of a show, the show comes to you. Like players in a multiplayer world, you have control over what you do, but in this case the other ‘players’ you are in the world with are acting out the story for you.
The obvious question to be asked here is, why not just do this with NPCs (Non-playable-characters)? It’s not a bad point, after all once the run of shows finish in March 2020 the experience will continue to be playable on the Quest with a saved run of the performance. The live aspect of the experience will have to end. But, the unpredictability of theatre is surely the reason 15% of UK household see multiple theatre-shows a year. On top of this ‘The Under Presents’ is not a theatre-show, it’s a theatre-show disguised cleverly as a virtual reality experience. Taking a commonly traditional art-form, and collaborating with emerging technology is a sure-fire way to entice a brand new audience to a performing art such as live theatre. As said by The Stage , the average age of a theatre-goer is 52 and set to only increase over the next decade. NPC interactions have rarely been an immersive experience in gaming, with repetitive and bland dialogues that warrant a skip button in most games. But an interaction with a real person, a real character, may completely change the way a player (or audience member, I guess?) plays through an experience such as this one. There will be a responsiveness that hasn’t been present before, along with improvised situations exclusive to the person or people involved in that moment.