Tribeca Interactive: Narrative Pioneering

Tribeca Interactive is a section of the Tribeca Festival (formerly Tribeca Film Festival) that showcases experiences that are “pushing the boundaries of storytelling with technology.” It consists of two sections: Immersive for VR/AR and Gaming for, well, video games.

Recently, I was able to spend an hour exploring some of the works that were available at their in-person exhibition hall. Tribeca Interactive had a hybrid format this year, allowing some programming to be viewed in the home by ticket holders. However, I do not have a home VR setup, and the good people at Tribeca Immersive allowed me to attend a VIP session and play around with some of the projects firsthand. I was also able to spend some time with the video games section – more on that later.

All told, my trip to Tribeca Interactive presented a showcase of interesting upcoming tech-based experiences with a few video games as the major highlights.

Immersive

First, I should address the word ‘immersive.’ If you’re reading this particular article on this particular website, you might have a certain idea about what the word immersive means – Sleep No More or The Nest come to mind. At Tribeca, the word ‘immersive’ had a narrower definition and it had everything to do with technology. Each project was based entirely in VR or AR. And while I absolutely enjoyed my time and experience there, it didn’t exactly match my expectations.

With only an hour in the exhibition hall, I was only able to view a selection of the works. Here is what I was able to experience:

Tribeca Festical Immersive Exhibition wall.

Plastisapiens

A strange set made with unusual canopies.

Plastisapiens is a VR experience that was both attractive and terrifying as it traced the expanding amount of microplastics that are just about everywhere. Based on an ecofeminist work, Plastisapiens focused on how plastic affects human hormones and may possibly change humanity and sexuality. The tone was of a futuristic dystopian corporation trying to convince me that all the horrible things they are doing are for everyone’s benefit. There were accompanying undersea visuals.

Iago

A pedestal lit greed, with a sci-fi setting built atop.

Iago is an AR experience that used real model terrain to project a scene onto an iPad screen. In it, Iago – the character from Othello – was reimagined as a futuristic female member of the military. Her origin story was told the way Shakespeare truly intended it – as a rock opera. It was entertaining to use the iPad to zoom in on any area of the full 360 video. Ultimately, though, it felt more like watching a music video than something truly interactive.

Missing Pictures

Poster reads, "Tsai Ming-Liang, The Seven Story Building"

Missing Pictures is a 5-part series of videos that run about 10 minutes each, and I only had time to watch one. The broad idea is that the videos are stories from directors who have movies that weren’t able to make it to the big screen. I watched Tsai Ming-Liang’s Seven Story Building; it wasn’t about a movie per se but about his childhood memories. The story was touching and the cinematography made good use of the VR medium, playing a lot with perspective. I didn’t go through the story from Tsai’s eyes, but I watched him and his family from Tsai’s level – literally, the camera felt child-height. I had to crane my neck to look on top of a table and lean over to see around a movie theater chair in front of me, for example. Definitely the best use of VR I was able to experience, and I would like to explore the other parts of this project.

ReachYou

A set lit purple with a variety of geometric constructions.

ReachYou was told not in VR but in AR. ReachYou was truly interactive and felt like an AR version of PostSecret. Users were able to record anonymous voice messages about grief and gratitude and were also able to listen to the voice notes that other participants had left. Many of the grief notes were pandemic-related, but the gratitude memos were greatly varied. I truly enjoyed the juxtaposition of major grief and worries and less worrisome gratitude statements. Someone mentioned that they were “happy every time [their] chickens lay eggs” and I couldn’t help but smile at that small slice of life.

Gaming

While the Immersive section wasn’t quite as immersive as I had hoped it would be, I found the Gaming section to be better than I had anticipated. Again, I was not able to spend a lot of time with each game, but here are my highlights in the order I played them.

Immortality

Developed by Sam Barlow, whom readers might know from his previous games Her Story and Telling Lies, Immortality is a narrative game that explores the mystery behind a fictional starlet who filmed three movies over her career – none of which were released – and who subsequently disappeared. The game is told through video clips and hidden videos that you find through hidden match cuts in stills from the clips. The major gameplay space is a grid of videos that grow larger each time you unlock more. You can shuffle their order, and somehow all of that will help you figure out the mystery of what happened to Marissa Marcel. Immortality has an anticipated release date of August 30, 2022.

Venba

A narrative-based cooking game with some puzzly aspects! It is the story of a family who emigrated to Canada from India in the 1980s. I didn’t get to play a lot of it so I don’t know where the story goes, but the demo had me go through a branching conversation between the husband and wife and I got to make idli. Some of the recipe was missing – I assume I was using an old family cookbook – and I had to puzzle out the correct cooking steps. Venba‘s release date is currently TBD.

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals

Oxenfree II - Lost Signals poster with an illustration of a heroine.

Oxenfree II is, not surprisingly, the sequel to Oxenfree – a game I have not played (yet) but that seems to be very well regarded. The demo for the sequel showcased a narrative adventure/ platformer game with an unexpected time manipulation/ puzzle element. There was a LOT of dialogue – both important to the game and casual conversation while walking – between the two main characters. Somewhat shockingly, it felt natural and I enjoyed the choices. How many conversation trees have we gone down where the choices are “good guy” option/ “bad guy” option/ “just let me do my job” option? That was not the impression I got in the Oxenfree II demo. Even given that, I never felt like I struggled to make a choice; the options were varied enough that one typically felt just right for me. Oxenfree II has an anticipated release date of 2022.

American Arcadia

It’s hard to succinctly describe even the 10 minutes I had with American Arcadia. I went through sections that were documentary-style interrogation scenes, side-scrolling puzzle platformer, and first-person stealth…and somehow it all worked together seamlessly. The story started with a man coming to realize that his life is not what it seems on the surface and is actually a cross between The Truman Show and Survivor if the latter is taken literally. I was intrigued by both how quickly I got to the action and how the game was presented in multiple play styles. American Arcadia‘s release date is currently TBD.

A Final Thought

Over the last two years, REA has increased its focus on digital experiences that are playable in the home. Events like Tribeca help to showcase the best of the best, and are vital to putting a spotlight on smaller creators who are “pushing the boundaries” and providing you and me with interesting games to play and new ways to consume media. We will continue as always to look out for exciting immersive experiences and let you know about them.

Disclosure: Tribeca Festival provided a complimentary media ticket.

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