Putting players into the slimy shoes of Vecna, Stranger Things VR is out now on Meta Quest headsets.


But how did the indie developers at Tender Claws end up working on one of the biggest fantasy brands on the planet?

"We pitched for it," Tender Claws co-founder Danny Cannizzaro tells RadioTimes.com over Zoom, the night before the game launches into the world.

He explains that the pitch took place "after season 3, before season 4 came out, and before Vecna was a thing in the world".

"And our pitch for it was that VR is great at representing these kind of abstract memory, dream, mind spaces, and the show already had Eleven psychically projecting into the void and these kind of similar spaces, and doing telekinesis, which we thought would just be really fun gameplay thing."

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The idea developed into what Cannizzaro describes as "a game that is set in the characters' memories and dreams, and expands them emotionally rather than trying to just do some side adventure".

"And I think that ended up lining up really well with what the series creators and writers had in mind for season 4," he continues.

"Like, as we started getting the season 4 scripts, and saw that the big bad of the whole series was someone that could manipulate your dreams and nightmares, we were like, 'Okay, this lines up really well with what we want the game to do.'"

Touching on one of the ways in which Stranger Things VR subverts expectations, co-founder Samantha Gorman adds: "When you hear 'Stranger Things game', you sort of expect certain standard perspectives."

By showing events from Vecna's perspective instead of revisiting that core gang of main characters, Gorman feels, "There's a lot that you can imagine creatively, because you know in season 4 that Vecna's been in the background the whole time... so, like, what has he been doing?"

Players will find out exactly that in the game, which starts with a young Henry Creel getting a grip on his powers, before jumping ahead in time to visit him in The Upside Down surrounded by creepy monsters, using his own slimy tentacles to fight them off and ultimately come to control them.

Later chapters of the game will play out Vecna's hitherto unseen side of several key sequences from the Netflix show. This is fun in its own right, and also functions as a twisted sort of recap with Stranger Things season 5 on the way.

A giant slimy monster looms in front of the Starcourt Mall, with Max standing close by, in this screenshot from Stranger Things VR.
A nice little trip to the mall in Stranger Things VR. Tender Claws

Cannizzaro adds: "We're really interested in expanding on, 'What was Vecna doing during these earlier seasons of the show?'

"But then also, taking moments from the show — like the speech where Vecna or Henry talks about how he became an explorer and he ended up forming The Mind Flayer — and taking something that might be a couple minutes in the show and letting players play through these bigger experiences and turning that into a much larger segment of our particular story.

"In that going back and forth, there are moments that are one-to-one with scenes you've seen in the series, but maybe you're seeing them from a different perspective in a game.

"Like the attack on Hopper's cabin, which is a kind of pivotal moment in season 3, in our game is a very quick chapter that you end up seeing from the perspective of the flayed meat-spider monster, and you're the one sending out the tentacles.

"So we tried to, yeah, expand and intersect, but not just redo things that had already been completely done on the show."

Part of the magic of video games is putting players into the shoes of vastly different characters. But was part of the goal here to make players empathise with Vecna?

Gorman is quick to assert: "It's definitely not trying to make them empathise with him. It's very much, we were aware, while we were making it, of this character still being like a grey character, you know? Like, not even grey, sometimes thoroughly evil.

"But the main theme is... for me at least, in writing, I kept coming back to this idea of like, what makes a monster? And what actions does a monster take? And not like trying to humanise him, per se, but trying to understand the twisted logic of his reasoning."

Cannizzaro adds: "One of the core things in our title and in the show is Eleven and Vecna's foils, where they do have similar backgrounds and similar powers and similar outsider status at times. And like, what makes Vecna evil and Eleven kind of not?

"And our game even has this inflection point, like, towards the end where your POV swaps from Vecna, then you play the final couple chapters as Eleven.

"And I think we were really interested not so much in getting you to understand why, or trying to get you to empathise with Vecna, so much as trying to understand that difference and that pivot and how the two characters interrelate."

A winged creature screams as Vecna's clawed hand tries to bat it away, in this official screenshot from Stranger Things VR.
A standard day in The Upside Down. Tender Claws

As for casting, Gorman tells us: "A lot of the heart of the game is Vecna and Dr Brenner, and for us, we're really fortunate that [the original Netflix actors] Jamie Campbell Bower and Matthew Modine wanted to come on board.

"And so working with them, they voiced those characters, and it was an amazing opportunity and just really fun to work with them on that."

As Cannizzaro puts it: "Our game script is like very much focused on those two characters. And it's a fun role for Matthew Modine to play both Dr Brenner as you see him in the show, but then also, we have the conceit that the hive mind digs into Henry Creel's memories and takes on the form of Dr Brenner in order to speak and converse with him.

"And so that is a version of this otherworldly entity trying to be like Dr Brenner, but being like an imperfect Dr Brenner. And so there's a fun interplay.

"And there's just so much back and forth between those two characters that, yeah, we're really excited that we could get the authentic voice actors for them, and they added a tonne to the game."

Jamie Campbell Bower and Matthew Modine, standing side by side and smiling in this group photo from the Stranger Things season 4 premiere.
Jamie Campbell Bower and Matthew Modine. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Gorman recalls: "It was towards the end of COVID, so I did get to meet Jamie and direct him in person, but we worked with Matthew Modine online, and they were both really game.

"And when I did get to go in person, to hear Jamie's voice... and he can shift naturally from Henry into Vecna, it was extremely powerful. And I think, at that moment, I felt the narrative really cohere and it was a really important moment for me."

Cannizzaro adds a fun fact for fans: "One of the surprises for us was how much of the Vecna voice that Jamie does that is not filtering - like how much is the actual performance itself."

Looking back on the project as a whole, Cannizzaro says, "We started it sometime in 2021, and so this is the longest we've worked on a project, and we're so excited to finally be able to share it with all the fans."

Stranger Things VR is out now on Meta Quest 2, 3 and Pro.

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