How necessary failures will help VR designers invent new storyforms
Source: Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine
The video stream of our panel from the Versions conference on VR curated by Kill Screen and New INC at the New Museum in NYC March 2016.
I think there are disappointments ahead in the short term because expectations have been raised too high before genre conventions – -a “language of VR” — has been invented, but I remain optimistic about the long-term power of immersive, navigable, 3D art and entertainment.
This event as a whole offers a snapshot of a particular moment in which a diversely situated community of practice has been called into being while platforms are still in flux. There is excitement from all the commercial interest and the emergence of some early high-production-values examples. But directions are unclear.
Some of my take-aways from this very well curated set of presentations:
- There is a tension between film and games as the model for VR.
- Since the interactor’s experience of agency is always the most important design value for digital environments, games are a more productive starting point.
- Hand controllers are key to success because they give us a presence in the virtual role, functioning as “threshold objects” when they mimic two-handed operations we can see.
- Virtual vehicles are a promising approach to constraining and empowering interaction.
- Documentary film approaches may work, shaping interaction as a visit (as I describe in Chapter 4 Immersion in Hamlet on the Holodeck). To be successful, designers need to invent:
- interaction conventions for navigating the space,
- cues to entice us to navigate,
- dramatic composition of the experience to rewards us for being in one place rather than another,
- a fourth wall equivalent to make clear what we can and cannot do.
New ebook-only edition revised for 2016 with over 10,000 words of new content in the form of chapter-by-chapter commentary, with new examples and useful web links illustrative of the enduring principles of design that have been validated by multiple communities of practice — from game designers to digital journalists to VR developers — since 1997 when it first appeared, and emphasizing productive design strategies for the next phase of creative innovation.
In a previous post I identified some of the unsolved design issues that make VR a less than engaging storytelling platform, and questioned whether the global elite wearing headsets to look at refugees in a UN-sponsored virtual reality documentary, were experiencing an expansion of empathy, as claimed by one of the filmmakers, or simply a sense of excitement at the novelty of a new technological gadget. This interview with Gabo Arora, who c0-produced the project provides some useful context: that the VR experience was positioned as a high profile replacement for a cancelled appearance by Bono. It also offers a key detail about an important design intervention that Arora made in staging one part of the film. The glamour of VR may not last, but the design intervention — creating action that encircles the viewer — is a useful convention that is likely to become a staple of the evolving medium.
It is works better in the refugee camp (see 6:20 in), than in the Disney VR of the intro to the Lion King which disrupts the immersive effect of a meticulously choreographed, costumed, and lighted stage picture by allowing us to move around chaotically, revealing the strained and tawdry artifice behind the illusion. Perhaps this is a new convention in the making as well — unintentional here, but potentially quite powerful: to take a composed image, like the pseudo-African primitivist landscape of a Broadway musical, and expose its constructed and distorting character nature by turning into an explorable 3D space.
Here is a film that was made for my participation in the the 2015 Future of Storytelling Summit.
Source: Future of Storytelling | 2015 Films
Among the games that flash by are Dys4ia, Blood and Laurels, Unmanned, Every Day the Same Dream, Framed, Walden, Her Story, Papers Please, and Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice
The interactive TV projects are from my Georgia Tech eTV Lab