philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


Chained mixes virtual reality and live actors to tell a dark Christmas tale

[Chained is currently sold out.]

Chained_door.0I was wearing a VR headset, standing in the middle of a dark, gothic take on A Christmas Carol. A grisly Jacob Marley asked me what I missed most about my childhood, and I told him I missed the hope and optimism of youth, when it seemed like anything was possible. When the Spirit of Christmas Past subsequently visited me, he pointed out a pair of ghostly, shadowy children chasing each other a few feet away. The spirit leaned in close. “Look at them,” he whispered, “so full of hope and potential.” It’s an easy trick, drawing a response out of an audience member and using that response to personalize their experience. But it worked — my own words coming back to haunt me drove home the sad longing in that scene and made it specific to my own thoughts.

As the experience moved toward its conclusion, I wound up in a cemetery with the Spirit of Christmas-Yet-To-Come. My brain knew that the thin, slightly pixelated figure in a shadowy cloak was just a digital character in a VR headset. But when he put his hands on my shoulders, his touch was real and weighty. And as the experience ended, he physically turned me toward a gravestone with a name I immediately recognized…

In Los Angeles, a virtual reality experience called Chained: A Victorian Nightmare is combining VR with live actors and motion-capture technology to create a new kind of hybrid show.

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