The beginning of living inside your favorite show starts with the Samsung Milk VR series GONE, the first original thriller series conceived specifically for 360-degree storytelling. Developed through a partnership between Samsung’s Gear VR’s team and Skybound Entertainment co-founder/Walking Dead producer David Alpert, GONE represents the perfect marriage between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Together, they have created an experience that embraces virtual reality by way of television, rather than gaming. Instead of a rail-riding shoot ’em up, you become a investigative bystander, helpless to prevent the events that unfold before your eyes.
GONE is the story Meredith Clover, whose daughter goes missing in a seemingly sleepy town. Episode one begins with watching two women supervise their children as they play in a park, although the false sense of security admittedly renders them distracted by idle gossip. Before long, one of the women realizes her child is no longer in sight. Panicked, she runs through the playground, screaming her child’s name. The episode lands on a grim, unpromising scene. Soon, Meredith discovers that her secretive, and possibly visionary daughter is much more than simply gone.
As the viewer, you are essentially a ghost, silently observing the story as it unfolds in front of you. The experience is enhanced by utilizing the entire 360 degree view. Your eye will frequently land on clues indicated by highlighted circles within the scene, what the creators call “hot spots.” You can use the button configuration on the side of your headset to isolate these portions, which reveal themselves to be clues for the presumed kidnapping. There is immense rewatch value due to these “hot spots.” Selecting one might mean you miss another one that occurs simultaneously. Alpert’s viewing recommendation is to watch the entire story through, not selecting any clues, and absorbing the story in its entirety. Then, go back and watch it over again, selecting every clue.
Although there is no decision-mode to affect the outcome of the story, there are numerous layers and dozens of clues that can enrich the narrative for the viewer. This sort of experience is reminiscent of Fullbright’s Gone Home point-and-click mystery, or Sarah Koenig’s armchair-gumshoe podcast, Serial. As Alpert says “it’s not about whether the child lives or dies. [It’s the] emotional resolve of the viewer that will be different, depending on how you experienced it.” In other words, the more time you take to focus on the details, the more fulfilling the conclusion will be, an antidote for the quick-clip culture media is usually accused of propagating.
Image Courtesy of Samsung
Even the technical Samsung people earnestly emphasized story over all else. When VP of Creative Content, Matt Apfel, first started developing this concept, he met with many different storytellers throughout the Los Angeles area. What made Alpert stand out was that “he started out with a [story] concept, before tech.”
2016 is proving to be an exciting year for virtual reality. I do not think this is the future of television, but that is not the creator’s intention. It is instead adding more options to the viewing experience, for those who want to immerse themselves in their fiction. For cosplayers, fanfic authors, or just die-hard fans; this could be a fascinating way to bolster existing content by engaging directly with the world, finding additional content, and adding rewatch value.
GONE will be available through Samsung Milk VR Tuesday, December 8th.