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  • Writer's pictureBhuvanesh Tekavade

Storytelling for Virtual Reality

The books and podcasts discussed in this blog are:

  1. Storytelling for Virtual Reality, John Bucher, Routledge, 2018

  2. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity, Marie-Laure Ryan, 2015

  3. Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion (Pg 296 - 351), Oliver Grau, 2004

  4. Voices of VR #611: "Sleep No More" Creative Producer on Blurring the Lines of Reality with Punchdrunk's Theater


Storytelling for Virtual Reality


In today's age technology is readily available to the consumers and with big companies like Facebook backing VR, it will become a common technology in any household. Content-creating platforms have also recognized this and are ready with their tech to upload and display 360 videos. But the biggest issue as John Butcher says and I quote, "The technology is ready and available, and people are enamored with it. But there’s one problem. No one has really figured out how to tell a story with it."


With the increase in technology for Virtual Reality, there has been very little in terms of creativity. Taking films into consideration, Bucher explains that young enthusiasts have long been going to film school to learn the art of cinema and master their craft, making a filmmaker into a master storyteller. But this craft flies out of the window when talking about VR, the traditional frame of a cinema canvas is no more valid, you are not watching from a certain perspective, you are in the film with a 360-degree camera to explore around. John here is trying to explain to his readers that the conventional methods of story-telling do not apply to VR, similarly, the design philosophy of making games, needs to be developed, improved, and improvised in order to make the game experience for VR.


As Shari Frilot says emphatically, "There's not going to be just one way of telling a story." She adds to this by saying, "There’s going to be different artists working in different media figuring out different ways to architect in this space. It’s still in a very nascent stage, storytelling in this new medium."

Butcher also talks about how the cinema journey wasn't as promising as VR. In the book, he states that the Voices from vaudeville and the more established theater community, coupled with opposition from prominent technicians like Edison, opposed early film storytelling and preferred to limit themselves to the realm of science. Experiments with movie cameras and projectors have made it possible to show their products to large groups, eventually spreading and creating new visual languages ​​for communication, entertainment, and storytelling. rice field. It takes decades of innovation in both technology and creativity for a movie to fully evolve into today's storytelling media. Sounds, colors, realistic special effects, and even editing features will only be available later.


The interview of Jessica Barillhart, Principal Filmmaker for VR at Google, and John Bucher gives an in-depth view into the minds of a filmmaker. The interview poses questions to us that we should be thinking about before we start on a narrative. The question posed here help us create better stories and give us a better understanding of how to tell those stories. A good storyteller needs the skill to smartly tell a story, no matter how good the story is, if not told well, loses its purpose. Understanding perspective plays a major role here and again helps us become better storytellers. The conventional module of Cinema apples to VR to a certain extent but as said above there are many questions that we need to ask ourselves while writing a story for VR that you probably would not while making a film.


Here are some of the key pointers that Jessica talks about:


  1. Engaging with VR is a dialogue or a dance, it's not an experience that can be forced onto the audience.

  2. The character is the story or is a vessel for the story.

  3. "Presence" plays a major role and is the most difficult.

  4. The role of the viewer must be communicated via the world in order to build a solid structure of the story.

  5. Three Act Structure of the story is useful in VR but, must be unpacked through a kinetic lens.


The creator needs to leave space for the viewer to create their own experiences.


Later the book talk about Video Game from the inception of their structure comes from paintings and not Cinema and how slowly the rules of Cinema entered the game delivering us to the modern age of Video Games. Similarly, VR is an ever-evolving technology that takes a lot from Video Games which is a combination of both films and traditional paintings. VR has seen its biggest growth and advances in the gaming industry as it is closest in terms of technology and narrative.


C R E A T I V E N A R R A T I V E

The narrative structure is actually based on the way human brains solve problems. As Bucher says, "Structure is about form, not a formula."


The structure of the narrative is something that scholars have discussed for a long time back. The book gives us a detailed insight into how the debate between which structural narrative is better for which medium has given rise to potential new understandings that can be predated to history for making a "good" narrative for VR. VR still is a new medium, to many, it is still in the shadows of films and games, although it holds unimaginable potential. Experts from all over the entertainment industry have been trying to cause a breakthrough in VR, and the best to approach this situation is to experiment and share. These experiments, successes, and failures are going to be the foundation to build a firm structure in terms of VR as compared to films and Games. The traditional structure that was used in theaters is a great reference for VR as it holds such close relation to theatricals.


The view is not bounded by someone else's perspective, the viewer is no more the viewer, they are the protagonist when it comes to VR. The fundamental nature of VR is similar to theater, which led to the creation of films and games with the advancement of technology but it's critically different from the methodology being applied in the latter two forms of art.



Narrative as Virtual Reality: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity


The first of the two chapters I had to read gave me a good understanding of some of the 'VR and Immersion' issues, such as the differences between VR-induced immersion and immersion induced by books, as well as the definition of immersion as a state achieved solely through the use of the brain, which conflicts with the definition of immersion as a state achieved solely through the use of the brain (without any inducer but the text). Another section of this chapter that I enjoyed was the 'Mental Simulation' section, in which the author states that immersion involves mental stimulation (effort), which is something that designers and developers have limited influence over because it is dependent on the user's ability to do so.


However, designers and developers will be able to develop technologies and strategies to facilitate the “transition” to this state. These strategies include strong physical immersiveness achieved through realistic and carefully crafted scenarios, emotional immersiveness in which the experience conveys a particular emotion to the user, and the user being "physically present" in the experience. Includes materialization when it comes to.


The fourth chapter followed in the footsteps of what I had just described as effective mental stimulation activities for (the sensation of) immersion. There was one section that I thought was particularly significant for my project because it was something I had given considerable thought and consideration to in terms of how to transport the user to the scenario. The author discusses this and examines various cases in "Spatio-Temporal Immersion: How to Transport the Reader into the Scene." They've given me a better notion of how to design my 'intros' so that the user can get a better sense of the experience.



Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion


The book featured works that had progressed beyond the 'purely artistic' and was now seen as able to incorporate various fields into themselves, such as sciences (apologies if I offended art; I meant to refer to this as an adaptation and embracement of 'new subjects' that had not previously been present, to the best of my knowledge). "A-volve," for example, is a superb illustration of how artists-scientists could replicate life breeding and evolution. They produced organisms and controlled their behavior by altering their environments and the things they interacted with, which was fascinating because it could pave the way for a future where we could predict a species' behavior or response based on a given event.


Transgenic life was also something quite fascinating conceptualized 22 years ago. It is nice to see that nowadays technology has improved enough to increase the chances of this happening. I fear we won’t be able to reach something like a ‘real-life Jurassic park’, but it will be nice to see where this will lead…



"Sleep No More" Creative Producer on Blurring the Lines of Reality with Punchdrunk's Theater


In this podcast, I learned about the importance of having a VR experience because it is impossible to communicate to others in words. This was a point stated by both speakers throughout the podcast, and it is something I can attest to from personal experience, as it is really difficult to communicate a good and immersive experience, or at least the sense of presence, to someone else.


There was one issue in particular that I found really intriguing, and it linked to teachers' lack of freedom to teach new things, as there is little room to adapt an experience to students who aren't engaged with the way things are generally taught. I can personally relate to this because I, too, believe that the way things are taught in my country is much different and less engaging than in other nations such as the United Kingdom, even at higher levels such as university, so I can claim that I understand the problem and know how to solve it (having been on both ends).


Another aspect I loved was how the path of developing alternative experiences for people who aren't the 'common' audience is so distinct and a whole new experience when compared to the more mainstream, commercialized, or accessible experiences that the big audiences see.


Following that, when they talked about dementia experiences and how well designed they had to be to avoid hurting the patients, it reminded me a lot of one of the first films I watched for this unit regarding phobia experiences.

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