Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Immersive theater is coming soon to a virtual reality headset near you

Immersive theater is coming soon to a virtual reality headset near you

If anything’s prime for a VR iteration, it’s immersive theater.

When I was younger, my family went on a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood for Halloween. There was a Van Helsing haunted house, and I remember finding it underwhelming outside of the occasional jump scare. It was proof that in order to be truly terrifying, you need to be immersed in the environment itself, not merely startled by a werewolf popping out at you. And that’s where interactive horror theater comes in, and shines.

embodying players with choice

Delusion, an immersive theater series based in Los Angeles (somewhat by way of Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More), has been twisting interactive theater into a horror experience for nearly five years, getting its start back in 2011. It’s the type of experience that doesn’t work from an outside, seated audience perspective. Delusion puts you into the “play” itself as a main character, interacting with the other actors and the environment all around you. Together, you work together to solve puzzles, unravel the mystery at hand, and eventually, seemingly escape (or not). Now, thanks to The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment, Delusion is now on its way to virtual reality.

A desk from the original production of "Lies Within."
A desk from the original production of “Lies Within.”

Delusion’s VR counterpart series will be written and directed by the theater’s own creator, Jon Braver. The series will be based on the 2014 Delusion production—new scenarios roll out on a regular basis—“Lies Within.” In “Lies Within,” you and a gaggle of die hard fans of a dark fantasy novelist break into the writer’s home after she’s mysteriously disappeared. As you all find, the house isn’t what it seems, and fantasy blends with reality.

Part of the joy of Delusion is its similarity to a choose-your-own-adventure game, as the story unravels in accordance to how you interact with it. Skybound’s VR series is trying to capture this with the same opportunities. Players will be able to shape and shift where the story goes based on decisions made in the VR version. Immersive theater like Delusion wants to embody its theater-goers, and later VR players, with choice, which is a powerful thing. Hopefully VR developers will take more cues from immersive theater (outside of just adapting its work) in the years to come.

Delusion’s current theatrical show, “His Crimson Queen,” is running until December 11th.

Photos courtesy of Skybound.

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