‘Dinner Party’ is a VR spin on the most famous alien abduction story

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Even if you’re a UFO skeptic, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the story of Betty and Barney Hill. In 1961, the interracial couple was involved in one of the first widely reported alien abduction incidents. Dinner Party, which premieres at the Engadget Experience today in LA, tells their story through virtual reality. It does more than just let you relive an alien abduction: Creator Lauren Wexler is also aiming to explore the racial dynamics around the event.

After all, the couple each retold the “abduction” in unique ways. And when viewed through a modern lens, their story sounds more like a traumatic traffic stop — the sort of thing that a black man might experience rather than a white woman.

While Dinner Party is only partially completed at this point, it’s clear that Wexler and her team are aiming to create something more immersive than just sitting on a couch and slapping on a VR headset. It’s set up like you’re actually having a group meal with the Hills. I entered a room with an enormous dining table, which featured fancy plate settings and the usual ornaments you’d roll out for impressing your friends. As you’d expect, every seat also featured a Gear VR headset and headphones.

The experience kicks off with Betty recounting the beauty of the stars, which are rendered right in front of you. Eventually, I realized I also had a bird’s eye view of the Hill’s living room when I looked down. In one smooth, continuous take, the camera slowly panned down and through the space, which is rendered in 360-degree video. I ended up spinning in my seat several times to observe everything happening around me. A plate dropped, and everyone turned their attention to Betty, who went on to pull out the hidden tape.

As she hit play, the camera swooped through a nearby window, and we transitioned to the couple driving peacefully through upstate New York. The trees and road weren’t fully rendered yet, but that didn’t matter much since I was mainly focused on the couple. Barney complained about having to make a long drive back home to New Hampshire from Montreal, while Betty nestled in his shoulder. Suddenly, a bright light appeared behind them, and the panic-stricken pair could only hold each other as they braced themselves for the unknown.

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