Short virtual reality (VR) animations have offered a unique approach to immersive storytelling, with experiences such as Oculus Story Studios’ Dear Angelica, Penrose Studios’ Allumette and Invasion! from Baobab Studios three of the best known and most professionally produced. However these aren’t interactive, merely offering a storyline to be watched and enjoyed, occasionally providing audio or visual cues to keep the viewer looking in the right direction so they don’t miss anything vital. Limitless, the studio behind Gary the Gull, has created an experience that blurs the lines between animated filmmaking and interactive content with Reaping Rewards.
Reaping Rewards features a darkly uplifting journey into one of the great inevitabilities in life, and that is death. Viewers find themselves in front of the Grim Reaper, who’s going about it’s age old duty of taking mortals to the afterlife. But Limitless isn’t offering a viewpoint into the reaper’s activities as you find you’re also a reaper – albeit in training by the looks of it.
Set in a hospital, Reaping Rewards takes you through several rooms each with patients that need to leave the mortal coil. The Grim Reaper shows you how this is done, calmly holding their hands to begin the process. If done correctly the Grim Reaper beacons you to move on, judging each patient you come across.
But Reaping Rewards isn’t about just holding patients hands to let them rest in peace. There’s an overarching moral story about life, fate and the right thing to do when presented with a difficult decision.
The first couple of patients are old, having lived their lives – to what could be assumed – to their fullest. It’s only when the last patient appears that you must make your final decision of the experience. A little girl lies on a bed, her mother asleep beside her. Possibly terminally ill, you must decide what the course of action should be taken. Do you end her life, one that has only just begun, yet to reach her potential and see the world. Or leave her be.
There are a couple of endings – which VRFocus won’t spoil here – but needless to say there’s a right and wrong answer. It’s fairly self explanatory but Limitless do try and pull on the old heartstrings with Reaping Rewards which works to some effect. While it’s great that you can interact with the whole story, until the very last moment you’re hand held all the way through and it really feels like more freedom could have been awarded to the viewer.
Compare it to Dear Angelica or Allumette and there’s a hollowness to the whole experience. These animations – whilst not interactive – have a soul all of their own, engaging both in the story and their visual aesthetics. Reaping Rewards lacks that certain spark to make it a groundbreaking short, but its certainly going in the right direction. Limitless is a studio pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling and with Gary the Gull and Reaping Rewards under its belt expect more good things to come.