Immersive technology, such as AR and VR has inspired storytellers to try new narrative forms. We are sitting at the cusp of change where people are wondering what storytelling will look like in the next decade. Foretelling the future is not easy but sometimes a reflection of future can be seen in what’s happening at the moment.
Interactive storytelling is still new to the screens. However, with the release of Bandersnatch – an anarchic choose-your-own-ending film that boasts up to 5 main endings – it’s becoming a growing trend in storytelling space. Creators have been working to push the boundaries of narrative; telling tales with haptic feedback to exploring story worlds in digital simulations, with the support of Sundance Institute’s New Frontier program. This is a bold step towards innovating the narrative world that is not quite a movie, video game or theatre, rather an interactive mixed reality built on the foundation of immersive designs, visual aesthetics, virtual and augmented reality.
One such project ‘Embody’ by Melissa Painter is an exploratory experience of immersive storytelling, allowing you to manipulate the world around you. This cooperative VR experience puts you into a utopia, where you are guided through a translucent avatar who will keep repeating a yogic pose until you succeed in mirroring it. Embody determines your movements from the sensitive data from the mat under your feet, headset and a camera, rendering the need of trackers and controllers useless.
“We used machine learning, deep learning, machine vision, AI, everything, using a very simple 2D camera, and pose detection to capture how you’re moving. We wanted people to think about their own body, not the technology.”
~ Melissa Painter
Another project, Gloomy Eyes set in the year 1983 teleports you in a love story where a mortal girl meets a lonely zombie boy but in this experience you are in control of pacing the scenes from your virtual reality headset. This immersive storytelling experience lets you get a better look at the living, floating Woodland City where bending down makes the textures appear crisper, larger and reveal the goth-inspired aesthetics. Unlike traditional storytelling, you are central to this experience as events unfold around you and you can explore the entire world with the help of a light over your shoulder.
“We want to do things that look very theatrical, very small. Something that happens in VR as a director is that you lose control because you don’t have the composition of the frame. By scaling everything down we can get that back.”
~ Jorge Tereso, Gloomy Eyes Project Director
Since there are no written rules in virtual reality yet, there is a lot of trial and error. You have to see for yourself what works and what doesn’t. With immersive storytelling you have more room to experiment, test and see how this can change the sense of reality. The growing trend of immersive technology has transformed the media landscape as well and storytellers are not only exploring this new terrain but also constructing it, creating new ways to connect with audiences and restructuring the narrative world.