Is ‘Strange Beasts’ a Preview of the Sad (Augmented) Reality Ahead of Us?


Strange Beasts is a British short film reminiscent of the dystopian Netflix drama Black Mirror—and it packs an equally strong punch in about a fifth of the time.

The film starts out with a game developer named Victor promoting a new augmented reality game. The game allows players to “create, customize and grow your very own creature.” Victor says he believes the future of home entertainment has to be interactive; we don’t just want to sit around staring at a screen—we want to be a part of our own entertainment.

Victor explains that the technology works by superimposing computer-generated imagery over real-world objects by projecting a digital light field directly into your eye. He insists the game isn’t dangerous to players’ vision, but on the contrary, it gives them a sort of “super vision.”

After meeting Walter, Victor’s virtual pet, we also meet his daughter, Anna, and her virtual pet.

Victor says Strange Beasts gives players a “friend for life.” But as we watch him sitting alone in his apartment swiping in mid-air at images only he can see, we start to feel uneasy.

The twist at the end of the film is one you may not see coming, and it opens up broader questions about the implications of augmented reality and similar technologies. Does technology that enables imaginary relationships keep us from building real ones, or is it just a minor distraction? If it’s a distraction that makes us feel better, then is it really such a bad thing?

Our lives are already filled with artificial relationships and experiences in a way that wasn’t possible ten years ago. We can virtually spend time with our friends by scrolling through our Facebook feeds and seeing what they’re up to, and we can “talk” to them through various means of messaging and chatting. We can log onto Instagram, search the hashtag for a place we’d like to go, and see hundreds of real-time photos of that place—or even a 360-degree view or live video.

These experiences are commonplace now, but in the not-so-distant past, it was impossible to see a place in real time without being there, or to get caught up on a friend’s life without a phone call or an in-person meeting.

It’s debatable and somewhat subjective whether these artificial interactions have made our quality of life better or worse. Studies have shown that people feel more isolated than they used to. Does technology help us connect with others in new and improved ways, or does it give us an excuse not to connect authentically?

While it’s up to each of us to choose how to incorporate new technologies into our lives, the broader sentiment around those technologies affects their continued adoption, as well as how their creators modify them to better suit our needs and desires.

Will digital worlds of our own design replace real-life experiences to the point that, like Victor, our most valuable relationships are imaginary?

Now is the time to steer AR and other technologies in a direction that will yield healthy, productive results.

Image Credit: Magali Barbe/Vimeo