This debut feature from Breaking Fourth claims to be the first Virtual Reality play, combining elements of video game storytelling with both traditional and immersive theatre. In this case, the “theatre” is a dark room filled with swivel chairs, where you’re given a short, in-character introduction before being told to don your VR headset (Samsung Gear).
In the digital world you enter an arena flanked on four sides by giant screens, on which the man you just met in real life is commentating over an online game. We view the protagonist – a young, working class gamer – through his webcam. He’s clearly gifted, but struggles to concentrate over what appears to be scenes of domestic abuse taking place off-camera. His “control” over the digital world is mirrored by his lack of control in real life.
The virtual world, which cycles through various apocalyptic levels, is impressive in its scale, playing on familiar gaming tropes. You view it from a fixed point (you can’t run into a corner and miss the action), but you can focus your attention wherever you like, and, for the brief time you’re there – under 20 minutes – it doesn’t feel restrictive.
Ctrl feels like the first steps into a potentially vast new sphere of entertainment, and in that respect it poses more questions than it answers, not least how you can offer more individual freedom without sacrificing authorship. But it’s also an accomplished work in its own right, a thrilling collision of two mediums that seem destined to share a common future.