A subterranean journey through the Victorian tunnels of London.

Share:

Experience the Guardian VR film as it explores the world beneath our feet.

Published

Underworld 3
Written by
Francesca Panetta
The Guardian

Underworld built on our learnings from 6x9 VR experience we launched last November along with Google’s Daydream headsets.


It’s a piece about urban exploration. Urbexing or place hacking, is the practice of going into forbidden spaces in cities. These could be abandoned buildings, power plants, catacombs, disused tube stations, and for this piece the labyrinth of huge handbuilt Victorian tunnels under our feet, that form London’s sewage system including cathedral-like spaces that rival the great victorian architecture above ground.


Urban explorers travel through these tunnels usually at night, finding routes that traverse across the city, sharing maps and tips about the best places to enter and exit. There are many motivations for Urban explorers. Some say that it’s trying to reclaim increasingly privatised spaces, for others it’s about documentation and archiving decaying spaces. For others it’s about thrill and risk - both of potentially being caught and the physical risks often involved.


This is a story which suits the form of virtual reality - it’s a story about place and exploration and pushed further the interactive potential of VR.

Underworld, explore the world beneath our feet.


For our VR piece Underworld, as you navigate the tunnels you are guided by the voice of Bradley Garrett - an urban explorer and academic geographer. He warns of the risk of flooding if it rains, how the tunnels can fill to the top in minutes. And on your dependence on your torch - if it dies, you will never be able to find your way out.


The Daydream headset comes with a controller. It means you have much more potential for interactivity. And that is exciting because with more interaction comes more agency. And being able to do more, engages you more in that world. You are more heavily invested in the piece if you have a level of control.


For Underworld we drew on the world of gaming for this: your controller is your torch and you can use it to navigate around the maze of the sewer system and there are parts where you can choose where to go with different stories along the routes.


We’re delighted with Underworld. It’s a hybrid form of journalism and gaming unlike any we’ve seen anywhere else. David Wilson of True False festival in Missouri (where it was exhibited) called "the first truly gamified work of nonfiction VR".