The Problem With VIRGINIA And Cinematic Storytelling

VIRGINIA, created by a small handful of devs at Variable State, is a short, two hour, interactive film. With little to no ability to actually control the game most of the time, it’s about the furthest we have seen the bridge between video games and film tilt towards the latter side, yet it does little help guide the narrative or tone, and in places, actually works to its detriment.

The plot of Virginia takes place in 1992, with you playing FBI agent Anne Tarver alongside agent Maria Halperin, looking for a missing young boy. During its run over the course of a week or so, it liberally uses filmlike framing and editing to keep the player invested in the story, but this setup more often than not works against it. The problem is that we often don’t get to control Anne beyond a small frame to move the camera around, because our first instinct when we do is to explore the environment. Look behind us, check the corners of the rooms, explore every square inch before continuing on for tidbits of extra context to the plot. Yet almost every single time, all that’s waiting for the player who excitedly searches for more to learn about this world is a blank, desolate wall, and a now broken pace. At times, we can even miss plot points because we were in one of the few moments where we could actually move around in a full 3D space.

Virginia so desperately needs to played a specific way to be enjoyed completely, and that’s full steam ahead, no matter what. The further we get into the game and stop checking behind us, the quicker the game cuts, the less the music obviously loops.

While I can respect what Virginia is trying to do on some level as a filmmaker myself, it goes much too far in the direction of film that I wondered what I got from actively playing the game at all. The little bits of interactivity come down to a single button press, leaving me feeling like little more than a remote control consistently pressing play because the film wants to make sure I’m paying enough attention.

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