You open your eyes and find yourself in an attic. A large table is in front of you with a mechanical crow on top. It abruptly whirs to life and says, “Well, I hope you’re ready!” Suddenly, the table’s center drops away filling with water, waves boiling in the middle of a storm. A pirate ship springs up and you are now in control of four scoundrel miniatures trying to squash a mutiny. The crow then gives you a choice that will drastically change the entire outcome of the game—all within the first 30 minutes! Welcome to Table of Tales: The Crooked Crown.
Over the years I’ve played many games, but few have produced the rush of excitement and joy as Table of Tales in it’s opening minutes. It instantly hooked me into an engaging story—not by inserting me into a massive VR world, but rather putting me into something small and personal. This method of storytelling opened my eyes to the incredible and limitless options gaming, specifically VR gaming, can have in creating new and immersive stories.
It’s safe to assume video games have become a pillar of how we consume some of the greatest stories of our generation. With games like 2018’s God of War, The Last of Us and Telltale’s The Walking Dead, it’s no wonder there is a growing desire for more story-driven gaming. Video games allow us a first hand experience, immersing us in a story that is being affected by our actions. But even so, there is a common degree of separation that keeps us from complete immersion, either because of a narrator or even the player character themself.
Many of the best recent VR games fail at convincing you that you’re in a new world, but instead lean into the familiar feeling of the Uncanny Valley.
For example, no matter how many times you play Mass Effect, your character will ALWAYS be Commander Shepard and the story will always be about Shephard. Not that there’s anything wrong with experiencing someone else’s story (you’re looking at a guy who just finished Persona 4 Golden for the first time and is still dealing with the emotional burden of not being able to hang with my non-existent Japanese classmates everyday). But when we are talking about Virtual Reality, total immersion is one of its most important aspects.
The whole point of VR is to create a “new reality.” We can finally be our cheese wheel stealing hero in Skyrim! We can dance to dubstep while wielding lightsabers! But, unfortunately, we’re just not out of “Uncanny Valley” territory yet. Games like Skyrim VR, Resident Evil 7 and Batman Arkham VR are all great at putting us in the world but everything remains … just a bit “off”. Character models don’t scale to the right proportions, or your movement makes you feel sick.
VR game developers are having to innovate how they tell stories in a VR space. Many of the best recent VR games fail at convincing you that you’re in a new world, but instead lean into the familiar feeling of the Uncanny Valley. The player assumes the role of an onlooker in the virtual world. Some current examples are Job Simulator, which places you in a 2050 virtual museum while trying out jobs of the early 21st century, and Moss, where you assume the role as a sort of guiding spirit to a mouse in a world within a storybook. By having the player be a silent observer, it actually creates a more palatable immersive experience.
In Table of Tales, you fill the role of a person in an attic with a mystical game table. It’s grounded in a relatable setting and the narrator, the mechanical crow, is physically present the entire time, tracking your head as you look around the table. It’s simple enough to hook you in yet adds the whimsy of having your own Dungeons and Dragons game brought to life with toy-story-esque minifigures and sets.
We are in an unique era of amazing storytelling in video games and a blossoming VR scene. While we are not at Star Trek Holodeck levels of VR technology, the engenuity of the storytellers in the game industry is awe-inspiring. Just in the few years VR gaming has been readily available, it has adapted and developed new kinds of storytelling in a way most would never have imagined. With VR technology advancing at a rapid pace, I can’t wait to see what new stories are waiting to be told. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be that dungeon mastering crow weaving adventurers through a magical virtual reality.