This review was originally created in May 2018 for HTC, targeted to their Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
Human trafficking is a profoundly serious subject. Even a simple discussion on the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or other exploitative purposes needs to be handled in a delicate manner, let alone in an actual interactive experience built around the concept. While it’s easy to take issue with TRAPPED: A VR Detective Story‘s title and how it really doesn’t easily bring to mind the subject it’s based around, the virtual reality experience itself does succeed in delivering a powerful and respectful narrative story.
TRAPPED: A VR Detective Story tells the tragic story of 14-year-old Lisa, an average girl from a nice suburban home. Lisa’s life takes a shocking turn when she’s lured into trafficking by a boyfriend/pimp named Lumpy who she met online. As you go on this terrifying journey with Lisa, you need to explore the world around her, piece together clues from her past, and learn exactly how she fell into this abusive and dangerous situation.
This experience can be played seated or standing in a room-scale environment, with its sole input method using gaze rather than the motion controllers. By simply looking at locations that are ringed with yellow circles for movement and then objects capped by cubes for exposition, you advance the narrative. The semi-realistic visuals are really well-done, particularly in comparison to other types of educational virtual reality, and includes support for Vive Pro resolutions. The narration, music, and other sound effects are also well done, although there appears to be an occasional bug where the narration is sometimes too quiet in comparison to the music.
The narrative is broken into three major acts. You can’t proceed to the next act until you look at and listen to all of the objects and their relation to the story in the previous act. If an act ends before you gaze at all possible interactions, you need to restart the entire experience over again.
The first act takes place in Lumpy’s apartment, where Lisa is alone, and includes a flashback to a year earlier when she was in her family home and still reeling from her parent’s divorce. This act’s focus is on awareness and education about how to identify a victim.
The second act casts you as a homicide detective sent to the scene of Lisa’s last “date,” where she was murdered by her buyer. Your otherwise well-intentioned partner speaks to you throughout, but he repeats myths and outright falsehoods about trafficking that don’t apply to this or most other trafficking situations. Through your female avatar’s own words, you learn about the “Illusion of Choice,” which is a psychological trick where people convince themselves that children want to do these damaging activities. The reality is is that demand is the root cause of the problem rather than anything that the victims have done, which is the main takeaway as the act concludes.
The third and final act has you returning to Lumpy’s apartment. It’s here that you collect clues that connect Lisa to Lumpy. It’s also here that you learn how difficult it is to convict someone like Lumpy, as well as learn a startling revelation about the detective you’re playing and her own motivations for doing what she does.
Developed by Radical Empathy Education Foundation, or REEF, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing experiential education virtual reality applications to help students, educators, and organizations learn about important social issues, it’s little wonder that TRAPPED: A VR Detective Story employs a deft touch with a very sensitive subject. While this is rated as a Mature product and there are obviously frank discussions of sexuality and violence, there is nothing overt or exploitative in the telling of the story. About the only component that’s not filtered is the use of adult language, but that again is in service to the reality of the story, which is based upon a real case.
TRAPPED: A VR Detective Story, proves to be yet another excellent example of virtual reality’s ability to educate in ways that traditional methods never could. Even though the actual interactivity is limited and it can be frustrating trying to look and listen to every object in a particular scene – particularly if you have to restart multiple times – by being front and center during key events of this tragic story, you gain a genuine empathy for the victims of these crimes and gain a clearer understanding of this almost unbelievable social issue.
Score: 4 out of 5 stars.
TRAPPED: A VR Detective Story is free for HTC Vive owners, and is available on Viveport (September 2022 note: This title is no longer available).