The Swayze Effect


One of the most compelling aspects of virtual reality is the feeling of PRESENCE: of being there. Yet this powerful feeling of presence can be frustrating if not combined with AGENCY: the pleasure we feel when actively engaged in a fictional world.

The folks at Oculus Story Studio call this discrepancy The Swayze Effect (after the star of the 1990 film GHOST): the disembodied feeling that you are in the room, but no one acknowledges you.

Matt Burdette describes Oculus Story Studio’s creative struggle with this dilemma, citing contrasting issues encountered while making the VR shorts LOST and HENRY:

LOST showed us that not acknowledging the viewer can create a considerable gap in connecting with the story and action. HENRY showed us that acknowledging the viewer is powerful but can contradict the intent of the story being told.

As Matt admits, the takeaways are still being determined. The exciting thing is that we are clearly in new territory, with the rules of engagement being discovered on the fly. There hasn’t been such intriguing creative whitespace since Walt Disney & company worked out best practices for animated feature films during the previous century.



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