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Singer Studios' The Pirate Queen VR game, starring Lucy Liu and directed by Eloise Singer, sets new standards in the industry with its commitment to diversity and historical storytelling. The game portrays the powerful yet largely unknown pirate Cheng Shih, blending cinematic film techniques and virtual reality to create a uniquely immersive and educational experience.

The VR gaming industry is rapidly evolving and reshaping both behind the scenes and in the titles themselves. Singer Studios’ multi-award-winning VR debut, The Pirate Queen: A Forgotten Legend, starring the iconic Hollywood actress Lucy Liu and directed by the acclaimed filmmaker Eloise Singer, is one of this year’s standout indie successes. This is largely due to the studio’s commitment to transforming the industry into a space where diversity and inclusion is the norm, not the exception.

The Pirate Queen tells the captivating story of Cheng Shih, the most powerful pirate in history, whose tale is largely unknown. Praised for its cinematic feel—thanks to Singer Studios’ unique blend of film and VR—hundreds of hours of meticulous research and thought were dedicated to ensuring its historical accuracy. The result is a game that Android Central states “...focuses entirely on the female lead character and her struggles, creating a 'whole new genre' for pirates in the entertainment space.”

Here’s how Singer Studios and The Pirate Queen have revolutionised the VR industry.

Breaking Barriers with Female-Led Innovation

According to Women in Tech, only 16% of leadership positions in the gaming industry are held by women, and less than 10% of the workforce comes from an ethnic minority background. Singer Studios is challenging this norm with its diverse, female-led team under the leadership of award-winning director and filmmaker Eloise Singer and award-winning producer Siobhan McDonnell.

With nearly half of The Pirate Queen development team having East Asian heritage, the Pirate Queen was driven by a passion to create an inclusive and representative story. This commitment to diversity underscores Singer Studios' dedication to championing the narratives of leaders who have paved the way for change.

Their efforts aim to rectify the significant gender imbalance in both the industry workforce and the narratives they produce. This dedication has been rewarded with The Pirate Queen receiving praise from critics. As FandomWire noted in their review, "the message the game leaves is one of empowerment, bravery, and women’s rights."

Lucy Liu’s Game-Changing VR Debut

A-list Hollywood star Lucy Liu, renowned for her roles in Kill Bill and Charlie’s Angels, voices Cheng Shih in The Pirate Queen. This marks Liu’s first venture into VR, which she describes as "so immersive. There's no experience like that. It's almost like it's a dream, but you're awake." 

Liu was drawn to the project because of its nearly forgotten female protagonist from history. Reflecting on the importance of characters like Cheng Shih in popular culture, Liu said in an interview, “I think it would've been very different if there were more female characters as the leads or as heroines when I was growing up.”

Revolutionising Female Representation in VR

During the development of The Pirate Queen, Singer Studios developers discovered that no female hands had ever been modeled for XR experiences. This lack of representation meant there was no baseline for creating Cheng Shih’s—and by extension, the player’s—hands.

This gap in inclusion highlighted a significant oversight in the industry. By creating The Pirate Queen, Singer Studios aimed to address this issue and support the broader XR industry by developing resources and a knowledge base that promote more inclusive and diverse character creation.

Filmmaking Meets VR: A Winning Combination

As a multi-award-winning, transmedia company, Singer Studios specializes in film, podcast, documentary, and television in addition to XR. This allows the team to bring their unique expertise from other areas into XR to create a uniquely cinematic storytelling experience.

For example, lead writer and narrative designer Maja Bodenstein took part in a Writers’ Room with director Eloise Singer before the team developed the wider game mechanics. This allowed Cheng Shih’s story to be fully explored and created first.

From the start, the game has prioritized telling Cheng Shih’s story as a little-known figure from history. By starting the development process by intensely researching the historical period and Cheng Shih’s life, players can experience an almost filmic quality to the storytelling within the immersive experience.

Eloise Singer notes, "You have to go through this journey that she went through and face the adversity that she did. And so I think, as a player, you're really connecting with that, because you really feel like you're stepping back in history and experiencing the world that she did, and that's really interesting and really powerful."

Setting New Standards in Historical Storytelling

Through The Pirate Queen, Singer Studios aimed to create a historical immersive experience that would be both entertaining and educational for players. The team conducted extensive research surrounding many aspects of the game, both in advance of and during the game’s development.

This included the historical context, language, in-game environments and objects, and intricate hand-painted cutscenes. Moreover, the game’s narrative designer and lead writer, Maja Bodenstein, delved deeply into Cheng Shih’s life and the wider British-Chinese relations of the time in preparation.

The team’s commitment to historical accuracy has been praised as ‘the future of education,’ setting a new standard for historical storytelling in VR.

Turning Gaming into a Powerful Educational Tool

Owing to its historical accuracy, The Pirate Queen is a fantastic learning resource for those interested in early 19th century China, British-China relations, and the lead-up to the Opium Wars. Singer Studios has committed to donate 50 copies of The Pirate Queen to academic institutions in order to further learning, inspire a new generation of creators in XR, and emphasize the importance of depicting female protagonists in the media.

"We believe in the power of storytelling to educate and inspire. By donating these copies, we hope to provide students with a unique learning experience that combines history, culture, and cutting-edge technology," said Eloise Singer.

Android Central emphasized the importance of virtual reality storytelling in education and praised The Pirate Queen for its immersive narrative, stating, "experiencing history from a first-person perspective makes all the difference."

The Pirate Queen VR game is not just a groundbreaking entertainment experience but also a powerful tool for education and inclusivity, setting new standards in the VR gaming industry.

A seasoned writer in the events space, Clara Simmons brings her extensive experience to articles covering everything from corporate events to festivals.

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