Being-in-the-film: When VR Becomes a New Narrative Medium

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Virtual Reality is defined as an “interactive, immersive experience generated by a computer” (Pimentel and Teixeira, 1993, 11). With the rapid development of computer technology, VR has been revolutionizing many fields, from gaming and film to architecture and marketing. It offers the audience an exceptional experience of fully immersing into and interacting with a simulated environment as if it is real. Sherman and Craig have defined four key elements of VR experience: virtual world, immersion, sensory feedback, and interactivity (2002, 6). It means that putting on a VR headset a filmgoer will transfer from recipient to participant, able to physically walk into the virtual world and interact with the surroundings.

This paper will investigate VR as a new narrative medium challenging and reconstructing the traditional cinematic storytelling. The analysis will be supplemented by two case studies, a VR animated documentary Portrait of the Artist and a VR animated short PTSD made by the students I supervised, and will mainly focus on the following three questions. Firstly, thanks to VR technology, the audience is able to enter and actively look around the simulated world. Does it fundamentally change the narrative mode from selling story to offering experience, and accordingly, potentially weaken the depth of story? Secondly, the immersive experience requires building up a 360° three-dimensional simulated space; in other words, scenes and settings become more predominant than other narrative elements. Can it be viewed as a return of the early film that was characterised by stage and showground, and the narrative that was mainly developed by the connected scenes? Thirdly, the interactivity of VR highlights the self-consciousness, enabling the audience to play a role in the film and participate in the development of the story, which presents a characteristic of game, so where is the boundary between game and film?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 May 2017
Event“CInema is Dead" New Ways of Showing, Watching and Telling : The 3rd International Alphaville Conference - University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Duration: 18 May 201719 May 2017


Conference“CInema is Dead" New Ways of Showing, Watching and Telling

Bibliographical note

Pimentel, Ken, and Kevin Teixeira, Virtual Reality: Through the New Looking Glass. New York: Intel/Windcrest McGraw Hill, 1993.
Sherman, William R., and Craig, Alan B., Understanding Virtual Reality: Interface, Application, and Design. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 2003.


  • virtual reality
  • film and television production
  • narrative


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