There’s an indisputable symbiosis between the creative and tech communities, and nowhere was this mating dance more apparent than the Closer Look at the VR World gathering at Milk Studios. An eclectic group of people from the arts, sciences, media, and social justice co-mingled with some of the leading pioneers in virtual reality, including Saschka Unseld from Oculus Story Studio and Mike Woods from Framestore. The conference was purposely held in NYC because as one speaker said, “VR is less interesting when only tech people interact with it.”
So what happens when you unleash the artists, the dancers, the dreamers and put them in a room with the people who made the Game of Thrones VR walk on the Wall? Well a lot of talk about storytelling and what form it could take in the embryonic medium. Will the experience be more passive like the filmed VR experiences that wash over you or more interactive as in the game engine VR experiences that allow you to be an active participant? How can you craft a story if you don’t know what the protagonist (you) will do? A lot of head scratching ensued.
Or will VR be best suited to creating empathy amongst humans by allowing you to put yourself in another’s shoes? Picture a Ferguson-like reenactment where you get to be the cop, and then reverse roles and be the victim. Would that work as a training tool for police? This kind of work is already being pioneered by our friend Nonny de la Pena and her numerous Immersive Journalism projects.
As immersive as VR is, and the technology will only get better, what’s missing in these simulations is that they focus solely on the sense of being in a transformative place to trigger emotion. You’re in space, you’re in a forest, you’re in a fantasy world. What’s missing in these experiences are other emotional triggers that naturally push our buttons, evoke memories and make our heart’s race, like music, nostalgia and stories of love. When all these triggers are activated along with arcs that tug at you, that’s when true immersion will happen.
What everyone agreed with was this: putting someone somewhere they’re not and having their brain tell them that they are, well, that’s pretty incredible.
Donning a helmet surrounded by motion sensors, I walked towards the precipice of the Game of Thrones wall, and later while wildlings threw fireballs at me, I died, just a little.