One of the final lectures of the day at the 2017 MUXL Conference came via Christophe Mallet from Somewhere Else VR, a London-based creative agency specializing in immersive technologies. The topic, Virtual Reality Storytelling, captivated the audience of the main stage with its futurism and its potential power over the mind. A new age of storytelling media was dawning and virtual audience experiences were at the helm of the shift.
Mallet began by relaying some of the most fascinating projects that had already been carried out in this space – VR spin-offs of popular TV shows, VR sports video games and paintings coming to life, to name a few. Mallet boldly states, “VR is user experience. Welcome to the story-world!” and supports his position on the role of the virtual in our future stories by quoting Chris Milk, a pioneer in production for VR and an immersive artist in this field.
“VR is the first medium that actually makes the jump from our own interpretation of an author’s expression of an experience, to us experiencing it firsthand. In all other mediums, your consciousness interprets the medium. In VR, your consciousness is the medium”
A closer look at virtual reality
According to both Milk and Mallet, VR requires a new storytelling language because the members of its audience are no longer simply spectators, they are visitors directly into the new world created by the designer. Virtual reality allows for a holistic design experience of a movie or video game by allowing characters to be the directors of their own stories and embody characters within them. Unlike traditional forms of storytelling, virtual reality tricks the brain into being fully engaged within a different world, and thus, has uniquely powerful repercussions on the human mind.
For example, experiments in human behaviour in regards to VR have shown that the mind has difficulties questioning what it sees. When asked to walk down a hallway at any chosen speed, people who had spent time in virtually crafted “old bodies” moved 30% slower than those who had not been exposed to the “old body” VR simulation. This type of storytelling has a direct impact on our intrinsic reactions to the real outside world and nearly limitless applications.
From his experience designing for this medium, Christophe Mallet shares “The Hierarchy of Needs in VR” and what responsibilities designers have to their users when making use of the VR medium in their works.
At the basis of designing for VR must be the feeling of comfort and usefulness among users or, as Mallet says, “don’t make your audience puke!”
For the sake of interpretability and delight, the designer must aim to honour the fidelity-contract dictating that the environments they create are ‘liveable’, safe and make sense to the user. Mallet refers to the failure of doing this as “the uncanny valley” and urges designers to stay away from it.
The title of Mallet’s talk, “The Age of AX” refers to the role of the audience’s experience in the crafting of modern stories. Virtual reality allows for the space and the way the user views the space to actually become elements of the story itself and tools that can be manipulated by the designer. Saschka Unseld, Creative Director at Oculus Story Studio is referenced when he refers to the extremely powerful tools designers can use in VR, “writers have words, and illustrators have images, but in VR, I don’t really think it’s images. I think it’s more the thoughts that are in the audience’s head. It’s states of being.”
By positioning VR as the next step in a millennia-old tradition of storytelling, Mallet manages to make a case for designers as architects of subconscious interactivity, body-driven stories and audience experience.
- VR is radical technology that shifts our experience from the author-directed control of the viewer’s gaze to a holistic relationship with the world, its inhabitants and the human lens. (Alex McDowell)
- Like writers using words and illustrators using images, designers craft states of being when they work in VR.
- Users’ needs when it comes to VR include comfort, interpretability, usefulness and delight.
- In all other mediums, your consciousness interprets the medium. In VR, your consciousness is the medium.
- AX Design is Audience Experience Design.