Some stories resonate so strongly with our culture that their narrative becomes inextricably intertwined with it. The story of a miser that learns the true meaning of Christmas after three ghostly visitors review his past and foretell his future has been adapted in twenty-eight different film versions dating back to 1901, as well as numerous radio plays, operas, ballets, animations, Broadway musicals, and even a BBC mime production. And while the average audience member may think that this classic tale has been adapted and remixed in every conceivable manner possible—they would be wrong. Chained.
Creator Justin Denton (Legion FX HoloLens experience at SDCC 2017) and Executive Producer Ethan Stearns of Madison Wells Media (producer of the critically acclaimed VR experience Carne y Arena) have teamed up to create an innovative and absolutely breathtaking version of A Christmas Carol called Chained. Combining the intimacy and personalization of a single-participant immersive experience with the limitless potential of a virtual-reality (VR) experience, this version of the Charles Dickens classic offers numerous surprises that both circumvent expectation and give the participant a unique connection to the story.
If you’re one to trust me on this, stop reading here and experience this immersive virtual experience (IVE) with no further spoilers. The magic of stepping into a familiar story that is refracted through an immersive lens is something that should be preserved. But if you need a little more information, you’re welcome to read on.
Chained places you directly in the role of Scrooge, making this a personal, meaningful, and interactive experience. The VR headset allows you to cross over into the spirit world of 19th-century London and come face to face with Bob Marley and the ghosts of your past, present, and future. But these spirits aren’t just virtual beings haunting your peripherals—no, in Chained, these spirits are all played by the extremely versatile and powerful Michael Bates (The Speakeasy Society’s The Kansas Collection) in a motion-capture suit and actually in the room with you. His movements are mapped perfectly to your headset, and when he touches you (yes, it’s all minor), you feel it. Further, the added touch of having Bates recite each and every line of dialogue, rather than have his words piped in through your headphones, really adds to the realism of having these terrifying spirits right in front of you. While I won’t spoil more, Bates’ multifaceted phantoms aren’t the only beings you’ll come across; Haylee Nichele’s intense yet kind eyes may stick with you far after you leave the spectral plane.
Additionally, most of the items that you see can be interacted with. Large bedposts can be grabbed, chairs can be sat in, and even certain items can be held. This all serves to further immerse you in this world. Yet, this isn’t a static world; it’s constantly shifting before your very eyes. The bedroom that you first enter quickly shifts into multiple other locales that your ghastly guides take you to. It’s these interactions, these environments, these surprises that provided some of my favorite moments in the experience and held my attention the entire time.
Finally, not all the spaces you visit will be virtual. Guests are invited to a space filled with the beautiful art of Aaron Sims (Stranger Things, The Thing, Planet of the Apes) both before and after the experience. Much as Scrooge learned his lesson from his ghosts, your lens of experience will also shift as you interpret these paintings, changing how you view them and what you see in them. It’s a small effect, but a noticeable one that helps enhance the post-show environment for each participant and provides a unique look at some of the beautiful concept art for Chained.
Chained is the next evolution of virtual reality; it is virtual, interactive, and fully immersive reality. It takes the power and potential of virtual reality and seamlessly blends it with the personalization and interactivity of immersive theater. It’s an ambitious and unique take on a story many of us know well and love dearly. Denton has created something truly magical here—and each guest may just leave with the memory of their future and the ability to change it.
While Chained is currently sold out, we expect more tickets to be released in the upcoming hours, days, and weeks—so keep an eye on their website or connect on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. Further, Chained may be traveling in the not-too-distant future, so don’t hesitate to experience this masterpiece if it manifests near you in the past, present, or future.