That’s the question Oculus, Tool of America, and director Kevin Cornish set out to answer with the new experimental VR experience, Fall in Love VR.
The collaborators behind the project were inspired to use the high-tech medium of VR as a means to reintroduce a timeless aspect of human life: romance.
It was a 2015 New York Times article, “The 36 Questions That Lead To Love,” that originally sparked Cornish’s interest in exploring how the act of conversation itself—and not necessarily the words said—leads people to fall in love with one another. A 360° video he shot with Taylor Swift inspired the director to combine that idea with first person, immersive storytelling to test whether or not people could experience intimacy with an avatar.
He pitched the idea to Tool of America, who jumped on board right away.
“We knew immediately that he was a creator we wanted to sign, and that this was a project we wanted to produce,” said Julia Sourikoff, executive producer VR at Tool of North America.
After securing a partnership with Oculus, Fall in Love VR was officially born.
The experience begins with a user sitting down with one of their potential love interests—portrayed by one of five actors cast specifically because of their willingness and ability to be emotionally honest on camera—who ask the user if they would like to go first. From there on, it’s the user’s job to ask the questions from the provided flash cards. The avatars then respond charmingly to the questions—that range from simple ‘get-to-know-you’ to deeply personal inquiries—in real time through the use of natural language processing.
Although the original plan was for avatars to both respond to and ask questions in the conversation, creators discovered in early testing phases that people felt put on-the-spot when they were asked questions, making them uncomfortable and diminishing intimacy in the process. Despite the one-sided nature of the conversation, the natural language processing used in tandem with a real human face allows users to feel as if they are having a real conversation with a real person.
“So much of a personality is based on a face,” Cornish told Fast Company in an interview. “It’s that idea of pairing natural-language and machine learning with the personality and the warmth and eye contact that come with having a photo-realistic human face.”
So does it work? Yes, and no. No one—so far, anyway—has left the experience pining for their fictional date partner. However, most people admitted that they felt sparks.
“We hear, ‘my wife would be jealous of this,’ or ‘my boyfriend would be jealous,’” Cornish said.
After the critical success of Fall in Love VR—the project was shortlisted for a Cannes Innovation Lion at this year’s festival— Cornish has no plans of halting his exploration of conversational cinema using VR.
“As a storyteller, I am very excited about the possibilities for conversational cinema where the conversations you have with characters in a movie effect how the story unfolds.”
Feel like falling in love in VR yourself? The free experience is available now out on Oculus Rift.