Tribeca's VR in 2019 may make you question your own moral fiber

So you couldn't care less about virtual reality? No problem -- the creators in the Tribeca Film Festival's Immersive program are hacking together new ways to make care about something

"A lot of creators are making strides in establishing ways to really, really distinguish this form of storytelling from others," Loren Hammonds, the senior programmer for the Immersive program at Tribeca, said in an interview this week, as the festival revealed its selections for the showcase Wednesday. 

Whether it's amped-up interactivity in VR that makes you a central character, or site-specific experiences with social elements threaded through them -- or even new immersive tech with no headset required -- many of the pieces selected for this year's immersive program at Tribeca aim to ratchet up your personal stake in the story. If past experiences experimenting in this concept are any guide, Tribeca Immersive may nudge you to consider how your virtual choices could reflect who you really are, more so than a film might. 

Baobab Studios -- a VR animation studio that is a veteran of the Tribeca Film Festival -- heightens the pressure on you by making you the lead actor in its most interactive experience yet, called Bonfire.

"The real power of immersion in VR is to allow you to connect with a character -- for a character to acknowledge you exist in their world and that you matter to them," Eric Darnell, Baobab's chief creative officer, said in an exclusive interview this week. "You can make choices that may push them away or bring the characters close to you."

VR needs something to bring people closer. Years after virtual reality reemerged as one of tech buzziest trends, even its most ardent advocates now concede VR's hype failed to materialize in broad consumer interest. With the masses averse to the unfamiliar format that straps awkward headsets to your face, immersive storytellers have been shifting their focus on new tactics and formats that may pave the way to popular appeal. 

"Because the headsets haven't necessarily been adopted as we've hoped, everything having to do with location-based entertainment has really started to level up," Hammonds said. "This is making the creators think in a different way about some of their work and how they're interested in exhibiting it."

In Baobab's case, Bonfire is the studio's "most aggressive foray into interactivity" yet, Boabab CEO Maureen Fan said. Hunting for a new home for the human race, you crash-land on in unknown planet 300 light years from Earth. With a makeshift fire as your only light source and a robot sidekick (voiced by comedian and actress Ali Wong), you come into contact with the inhabitants of this unfamiliar place and decide how you want to interact with them.