I don't use the term 'shocked the world' often, but I think it's safe to say that The Walking Dead's Season 7 premiere at least shocked the social media world.
This post will not contain spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 7, episode 1 – however, many of the linked articles do contain spoilers.
The much anticipated first episode was one of the most brutal, gory, and horrifying episodes of television. I honestly can't think of any show on cable TV that has ever gone so far into the realm of torture porn and straight up gore. Even Game of Thrones, which is not cable, rarely features gore in the kills.
It Could Have Been Even Worse In VR
Regardless of if you felt The Walking Dead went too far or was too gory for you, it's hard to not admire how well executed the scene was. The suspense was brutal, the pacing was masterful, the performances were phenomenal.
As someone who doesn't actively keep up with The Walking Dead, I was so quickly drawn in by the cinematography, the pacing, Negan's charisma and energy, and the painful reaction shots. I had a real reaction to each swing of the bat.
But I couldn't help but wonder, what if this is the future of virtual reality?
What if we saw the entire scene from Rick's perspective – vulnerable, on our knees next to characters we've been side by side with for seasons?
We could look around the environment, see the faces near us, feel Negan's looming presence, hear the cries and whimpers of people on either side of us. It would be absolutely brutal and even more visceral.
The Tech Already Exists
Everyone talks about the future of VR, what it all means. It could connect people, it could transport us into games, and VR could immerse us in stories like never before.
We've all seen those goofy videos of people freaking out in VR horror games because they feel so immersed.
Gaming has been one of the single biggest driving factors in the VR future. The Oculus, HTC Vive, and PSVR are only the most popular handful of all the virtual reality devices available. The push towards VR is massive, well-funded, and likely to quickly expand away from video games.
VR gaming is selling units to be sure, but we're also getting plenty of signals that film and VR social experiences are going to eventually sell more units than games alone. And, most of the games we have seen do often focus on horror. There are more hotly anticipated horror games than of any other game genre.
Additionally, there's already VR viewing options for things like the presidential debates where a VR camera is just another perspective to watch a live event. But, we're not talking about live broadcasts, we're talking narrative.
When Could We See A TV Show Go VR?
There are two huge barriers currently blocking us from having a mainstream TV show like The Walking Dead with a VR component.
- First, VR production needs to be more realistic
Virtual reality is expensive and has very specific production restraints. Plus, the best VR equipment is often heavy and delicate, so it's usually stationary or it's portable but of a low quality. That's a serious creative constraint. Unlike a VR broadcast of a live event, where a VR camera can be hidden in a crowd, we would need tech that can exist within a single-shot narrative. VR can't just 'cut' to a new scene like a normal TV show without a jarring the watcher.
This can happen, however, it's just a hurdle. VR tech is changing rapidly, new and cheaper VR tech is being developed every day, and creatives are working on ways to weave narrative into VR constraints.
- Second, VR devices need to become mainstream
However, to justify a mainstream VR show, VR would have to be mainstream too. Right now, the PSVR is selling well and the Oculus and Vive are in the market – but VR is far from any sort of market saturation. Even cheap options like the phone-based Google Cardboard aren't common household items yet.
Current industry predictions suggest that we could see two million VR headsets by the end of 2016, 36 million by 2020, and 135 million VR devices by 2025, worldwide.
That in mind, it might take over a decade for VR to be popular enough for a mainstream TV show to justify adopting a VR-ready storyline.
But not all is lost, the VR audience is going to want things to watch. VR mini-movies, documentaries, and features already exist and more are in the works. And, before cable TV VR, we'd be most likely to see a VR TV subscription service to service hungry VR-owning TV fans.
And hell, maybe after a decade it'll have been long enough to justify recreating that fateful Negan scene. It was only 5 years between Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, so there's no reason we couldn't revisit The Walking Dead and Negan when the time is right.
It would certainly something to keep an eye out for.
Would you watch The Walking Dead in VR? Or would that be too much to handle?