2018 round up of 52 Immersive Things

lance weiler
Columbia DSL
Published in
28 min readDec 9, 2018


The following is a round up of 52 immersive things from 2018 that mix storytelling, play, design and code.

Big thanks to everyone who helped with suggestions for this round up! A group of working practitioners from around the globe shared the projects that moved them, stood out and were something that shouldn’t be missed. You can see the full list of contributors who helped with the recommendations at the end of the article.

The following are in NO particular order

Queerskins — Illya Szilak & Cyril Tsiboulski

“Queerskins explores the dynamic tension between the “real” and the virtual, fact and fiction, memory and desire through a compelling, character-driven narrative. The story revolves around a complex relationship between a devoutly Catholic mother and her gay son who dies of AIDS. Queerskins explores the quintessentially human desire to transcend ordinary reality through memory, belief and imagination.” — Read More

Return of the Obra Dinn — Lucas Pope

“In 1802, the merchant ship “Obra Dinn” set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods. Six months later it hadn’t met its rendezvous point at the Cape of Good Hope and was declared lost at sea.

Early this morning of October 14th, 1807, the Obra Dinn drifted into port with sails damaged and no visible crew. As insurance adjustor for the East India Company’s London Office, find means to board the ship and recover the Crew Muster Roll book for assessment.” — Read More

A Dinner with Frankenstein AI — Lance Weiler, Rachel Ginsberg, Nick Fortugno

128 guests — 4 immersive dinners — 2 nights — 1 AI host

“Interactive artists Lance Weiler, Nick Fortugno, and Rachel Ginsberg’s A Dinner with Frankenstein AI posed another fundamental question at the Conference: is artificial intelligence a modern equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster? And even more profoundly, what is it like to be human? They sought to answer these questions by throwing a series of elaborate dinner parties for DocLab participants, which led to fascinating and stimulating human-to-human and human-to-machine interaction.” — Read More


In the newest episode of the Columbia DSL’s monthly Sandbox podcast Lance Weiler, Rachel Ginsberg and Nick Fortugno pull back the curtain on “A Dinner with Frankenstein AI” at IDFA.

1 the Road — Ross Goodwin

“On March 25, 2017, a black Cadillac with a white-domed surveillance camera attached to its trunk departed Brooklyn for New Orleans. An old GPS unit was fastened atop the roof. Inside, a microphone dangled from the ceiling. Wires from all three devices fed into Ross Goodwin’s Razer Blade laptop, itself hooked up to a humble receipt printer. This, Goodwin hoped, was the apparatus that was going to produce the next American road-trip novel.” — The Atlantic

Radiant One — Fntastic

“Radiant One is an illusory, story-driven adventure with mystical elements. Trying to escape from boring life and social media, one day Daniel found a mysterious book about lucid dreams. Very quickly he was able to do incredible things, create amazing worlds and fly during sleep until one day his dreams fell under the power of something inexplicable, something terrible conceived by the Universe itself… Help Daniel survive, pass the test and get enlightenment.”

Gustav Klimt immersive exhibition — Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto, Massimiliano Siccardi

“To mark its opening, the Atelier des Lumières will present an immersive exhibition devoted to the main figures in the Viennese art scene, of which Gustav Klimt was a key figure. To mark the hundredth anniversary of the painter’s death, and that of Egon Schiele, their works will be brought to life to the sound of music on the former foundry’s immense projection surface.” — Read More

Education is Forbidden

“The project “Education is Forbidden” came out of my need to understand what it means to be a student living in the midst of the Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria… As I began the work, I found there was a schism between the representation of students in the media and the reality of their aspirations, memories, and fears.” — Lens Culture

Museum of Symmetry — Paloma Dawkins + NFB Interactive

“Museum of Symmetry is the explosive feel-good alter-universe of cartoonist and animator Paloma Dawkins — a room-scale VR experience with 2D animation in a 3D playground as never been seen before.

This young illustrator, who graduated from the prestigious NFB HotHouse program, has moved from comics and animation to video games to which she applied her fantastic landscapes and adorable creatures to create a surrealistic experience brought to life by the NFB and the rising Montreal’s studio, Casa Rara.” — IX Daily

Red Dead Redemption 2 — Rockstar Games

“But the near-obsessive attention to detail, along with a new gameplay structure that centers around a family-like group of outlaws, makes Red Dead Redemption 2 the most convincing open-world game I’ve ever played. Except for a few rare instances, everything you’re doing in the game feels right, as if you were actually a bank robber trying to get by in the Old West. Those small details make the simulation that much more compelling. You might be struck by the way mud builds up on Arthur’s boots on a rainy day or how his beard grows as time progresses.” — The Verge

The Great C — Secret Location

“The Great C,” which is based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, clocks in at just above 30 minutes, and spans 20 unique environments. Luke Van Osch, who produced the animated film for the Toronto- and Los Angeles-based VR startup Secret Location, told Variety during a recent interview that many of the existing VR experiences out there still felt like a demo for the technology itself.

The goal with “The Great C” was to create something that felt “substantial,” he said. “We wanted to make something that feels like a rich and rewarding piece on its own.” — Variety

BeeMee — Niccolo Pescetelli

“According to BeeMe’s project page, the game is designed to “push crowdsourcing and collective intelligence to the extreme to see where it breaks down”. The system itself is relatively straightforward: viewers can log on to the website and submit recommended actions for the protagonist to do, as well as voting alternate proposals up or down. After a certain amount of time has passed, the remote controlled human is charged with carrying out the most popular choice.” — ARGN

Pilgrim — Lauren Hutchinson, Saschka Unseld for Tomorrow Never Knows

photo credit: the amsterdammer

“Making innovative use of augmented reality, Pilgrim lets you accompany a diverse group of walkers. If you adjust to one walker’s tempo, you’ll hear him talk about a relationship breakdown. Another person is searching for a new goal in life. Other people are less willing to share their personal feelings. They just want to be part of the group — and the group isn’t talking continuously anyway. You’ll hear ambient noise and the occasional singing from a church service. Pilgrim is a journey with multiple meanings that can be traveled at various tempos.” — IDFA doc lab

Florence — Mountains

“Let’s just get this out of the way: Florence is one of the most beautiful, unforgettable games I have ever played.

Australian studio Mountains’ debut game, out now on iOS, is a brisk experience, but a powerful and close-to-perfect one. As its credits slowly unfurled after 40 minutes of emotional ups and downs, I blinked away tears. Florence is powerful and rare in that way.” — Polygon

A Case of Distrust — Ben Wander

“A Case of Distrust is a narrative mystery from 1924 San Francisco. Play as private investigator Phyllis Cadence Malone in this historical 2D adventure game. Explore underground speakeasies, smoke-filled billiard halls, classic barber shops, and more. Catch suspects in lies by using evidence, statements, and your wits. Intrinsic challenges face our heroine, as she struggles against a pushback on emancipation, leading to many doubts, both internal and external. Uncover the truth in a mystery full of deception!” — Read More

She Says — WFAE

“WFAE’s She Says is an investigative podcast series that follows the story of a sexual assault survivor in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County and the long and difficult process of finding justice. As of this writing, no one has been brought to justice in the case.” — Read More

au-dela des limites — teamlab

teamlab is bringing an immersive, 2,000 square meter exhibition to paris, forming a vast space that allows visitors to experience the world through their own bodies. from may 4 to september 2, 2018 at la villette, ‘au-delà des limites’ explores the role of digital technology in the blurring of physical and conceptual boundaries that exist between art. while each of the installations on view maintain a sense of autonomy, they simultaneously break free from their frame and enter the realm of another, influencing and sometimes intermingling with other artworks.” — designboom

Healing Spaces — Gabi Gomes

“A smart platform that allows caregivers to transform spaces through light, color, sounds, and visuals, turning any environment into a place where older adults living with dementia can focus, engage and relax. Inspired by the research legacy of Multisensory Environments (MSEs), Healing Spaces is about creating restorative environments where older adults living with dementia and their caregivers can find respite and heal.” — Healing Spaces site

Enter The Collider: Chapter One — Anagram

“Enter The Collider, a machine built to decipher the mysteries of human relationships. This is the story of the space between people — and the electric, magnetic and caustic materials that pass between us. There’s the air temperature and humidity levels in a room in which two people fight, or the exact distance between peaceful lovers. In every exchange, there’s flesh and bone — human matter — and there are other sorts of matter.” — IDFA doc lab

The Waiting Game — Nick Fortugno, Sisi Wei, Propublica

“For decades, video games have been a major part of digital culture, helping players escape reality to live within virtual worlds. And it’s big business. Annually, the video game industry generates more than a hundred billion dollars. But no longer are video games built of fiction. Gradually, over the last few years, news organizations have begun experimenting with ways video games can be used to tell news stories. The concept breaks away from the traditional forms of text, video, audio and photos being used for storytelling purposes and helps the player, at least theoretically, feel more involved in the story they’re experiencing.” — Storybench

I am Echoborg — Rik Lander, Phil D Hall

“I am Echoborg is a funny and thought-provoking performance that is created each night by the audience in conversation with an artificial intelligence. A host sets a challenge: can you discover the best possible outcome for the relationship between humans and intelligent machines? The rest is down to the ensuing conversations.”

Life is Strange 2 — Dontnod

“After a summer of teasing, Dontnod’s sequel to its award-winning episodic adventure series Life is Strange is here, and it has a loud and clear message to deliver.

The first Life is Strange tackled issues like cyberbullying, suicide, and assault through the eyes of its teenage protagonist Max and her friendships. Life is Strange 2 is far more ambitious. While set up to be a story about a family through the eyes of two Hispanic brothers, the game quickly wades into more political, timely topics. The first episode is set quite obviously in October 2016, just weeks before the election of Donald Trump.” — The Verge

BattleScar — Nico Casavecchia and Martin Allais

“The short virtual reality film BattleScar starts before you even put on the headset. In Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section, viewers enter a booth that’s been transformed into a teen girl’s bedroom, circa 1978. A mattress sits on the floor, littered with a leather jacket and high boots. One wall has PUNK slashed in straight black lines. Beneath that, in smaller script: was invented by girls. The design is clearly conveying defiance, but with 40 years of hindsight, the aesthetic is comfortingly familiar.” — The Verge

Your Spiritual Temple Sucks — John Hsu

“Mr. Chang arrives to his “Spiritual Temple,” a place that represents one’s destiny. To solve his marital crisis and financial problems, he summons his guardian — The Thunder God. They attempt to tidy his life, which turns out to be a big mistake… with hilarious consequences.”

VR_I — Cie Gilles Jobin & Artanim

“For the first time ever, a choreographer combines dance with immersive virtual reality in a work that provides viewers with a unique sensory experience. Blending art with technology, VR_I resulted from the encounter between Gilles Jobin and the founders of Artanim, Caecilia Charbonnier and Sylvain Chagué, motion capture technology experts and virtual reality pioneers in Switzerland and abroad. In association with them, Gilles Jobin developed VR_I, a work in which the creator questions our perception of reality and enters new unexplored and unchartered territories for contemporary dance. Thanks to the virtual reality technology developed by Artanim, VR_I viewers equipped with virtual reality heads”

Face to Face — Michaela Holland, Michelle Gabel & Michelle Fox

“Face to Face, commissioned by the festival and winner of the alternate realities virtual reality award, was an extraordinary three-room experience involving the shocking story of Michelle Fox who, in 2009, was injured in a near-fatal gun accident caused by her ex-husband. She lost her eyes, nose and upper palate and now wears a silicone facial prosthetic made specially for her. The photojournalist Michelle Gabel had been documenting her life since 2014 and was then introduced to Michaela Holland, an immersive storyteller who collaborated with them on this piece.” — The Guardian

The Bunker — Broken Ghost

The Bunker is an immersive, live action adventure game for up to 15 participants. It combines elements of escape rooms, immersive theatre, board games, role playing and video games. It features live performance, digital engagement and a reactive story crafted entirely by the decisions you make.”

Westworld @ SXSW — Giant Spoon

“In the aftermath of this year’s SXSW, there seemed to be a clear consensus of the winner of the groundbreaking festival: HBO & Giant Spoon’s impossibly immersive Westworld experience. The praise-heaping reactions didn’t stop there. Much of the immediate news coverage declared it the greatest activation ever and one of the best publicity stunts of the 21st century.”

Manic VR — Kalina Bertin

“Manic is a virtual reality experience that explores the beautiful, chaotic, frightening and ebullient world of those with bipolar disorder. It follows the thoughts of creator Kalina Bertin‘s siblings, Felicia and François, through the voicemails they’ve left her as they undergo cycling states of mania, psychosis and depression.” — Storybench

René Magritte: The Fifth Season — frog + SFMOMA

“A face dissolved behind a cloud-screen re-emerges in strange bubbles — eyes and lips, dissociated and bobbing in a surreal sky. That’s how it feels to be inside Magritte’s painting “Shéhérazade.”

In the final room of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s show “René Magritte: The Fifth Season,” which opened in May, museumgoers can transform themselves into art at the Magritte Interpretive Gallery, a series of “six augmented reality interactions” with the Belgian surrealist’s work.”

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine — Dim Bulb Studios

“When I head inside for shelter, it turns out I’m not alone; in each corner of the barn, there is a man, each identically dressed, staring at me in complete silence. Eventually, I fall asleep, and when I wake up they’re all gone, along with all my cash.

It’s a terrifying way to spend a night. But more importantly, it’s an excellent story. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine — the debut release from Dim Bulb Games, a studio founded by Gone Home co-creator Johnnemann Nordhagen — is an experience that is entirely about stories: telling them, finding them, and seeing the ways they change over time.”

Where There’s Smoke — Lance Weiler

Please note this is my own work

Where There’s Smoke staged a work-in-progress showing at the Future of Storytelling invitational summit.

“In 1983 our van burst into flames on a family vacation. Eleven months later our house would burn to the ground. As I explore my past I find mysterious connections to these blazes and come face to face with a closet full of skeletons.

Where There’s Smoke mixes a live documentary, immersive theatre and an escape room to create an experience that explores memory and loss. Set within the aftermath of a blaze, participants race to determine the cause of a tragic fire by sifting through the charred remains. Inspired by true events in my life, Where There’s Smoke details the connections between two mysterious fires and my father’s battle with cancer.”

In Someone Else’s Shoes — Santander

“The Android and iOS app (available on the Apple App Store and Google Play) draws from the real experiences of people like Kate, who worked two jobs and still couldn’t provide for her family. She appears in the documentary-style film, along with an executive from Heading Home, a nonprofit group that helps the homeless in the Boston area.

The app launches Thursday and, for every download, Santander will donate $1 to organizations like Heading Home. It’s the latest effort under the “In Someone Else’s Shoes” banner, where Santander and Arnold last month launched interactive art installations in high-traffic locations around Boston and a pedometer app. More than 2,000 people engaged with those experiences, and 4,800 people downloaded the pedometer app, driving upward of $200,000 in donations.” — AD WEEK

The Structure of Stand-Up Comedy — The Pudding

“Starting at this climax, the piece’s researchers adopted the methods of literary deconstruction and went back through Wong’s set joke by joke to find where the seeds of this climax were planted. It turns out that Wong’s set was even more intricate than they’d imagined, with each joke being able to fall under the umbrella of three related themes. While in a traditional story the intersection of these arcs gives way to catharsis or understanding, here it produces a kind of cumulative laughter, which feels special in the realm of standup.” — AV Club

Grenfell: Our Home — Parable

“Created by an independent production company Parable for Channel 4, Grenfell: Our Home is a short documentary filmed in virtual reality (VR) that discuss the lives and experiences of the community in an immersive setting.

…Filmed across the year following the tragedy, Grenfell: Our Home is incredibly moving. The documentary shows people who lived in the tower talking about their homes; when they first saw the flat, how they decorated it and all spoke about admiring the tower’s views over London.

Then talk turns to their experiences of the fire and picking up the pieces of their lives afterwards…” — The Standard

Oat the Goat — Assembly

“Oat the Goat is the tale of Oat’s journey to the top of a mountain and the friends Oat makes along the way.

This unique story, launched online last month during Bullying-Free Week, aims to teach children aged 4 to 7 the importance of being kind to one another (although yours truly, at 33, quite enjoyed watching it too, so I’ll go ahead and revise it’s recommended age to “all ages”).

Oat’s story can be played in either English or te reo Māori (as “Oti te Nanekoti”) and you can either read it yourself or have it narrated to you.” — NZ Herald

Flow Machines for ‘Hello World Album’ by SKYGGE

“Flow Machine is an artificial intelligence that turns a creator’s intention into Music. Flow Machine helps artists develop their style by suggesting melodies, harmonies, or timbre, in a continuous, creative dialog.”

Project Dead Zone — Xfinity

“During the live stream, a team of paranormal investigators entered the house to uncover what had been causing a recent spike in paranormal sightings. The live audience helped them navigate through the many doors and passageways in real time. 30-minutes in, things took an interesting twist as the house appeared to become possessed and began pulling the team apart, causing panic which you’ll have to tune into. The end result was an elaborate piece of theater put on by Xfinity and GS&P.” — The Drum

The Lockdown — ABN AMRO

“In this experience, you’re an expert contracted by Interpol’s cybercrime division to crack a seemingly unsolvable case. Use the AR objects around you, your holodesk and your brain to prevent a worldwide meltdown. Can you out-think everyone else?”

Die With Me — Dries Depoorter & David Surprenant with IDFA Doclab

“We’re so addicted to our phones that we simply can’t fathom the idea of not being able to use it because it’s out of battery juice. That’s why we’re constantly charging our devices, making sure they have enough battery to get us through the day.

But who said that having your battery die can’t be a fun experience, especially if you don’t have a charger or external battery on hand. That’s where the brilliant $1 Die With Me iPhone and Android app will come in handy.

Die With Me only works if your phone’s battery dips below 5%…” — BGR

Homestay — Paisley Smith, NFB interactive

“Every year, Canada receives hundreds of thousands of students from around the world. To make the most of their Canadian experience, many opt to live with a host family. Homestay is one family’s story of life with international students — a look at how complete immersion in another culture can create a clash of expectations and change our understanding of family, hospitality, nationality and love. This 15-minute creative non-fiction narrative was designed for an interactive room-scale VR environment.”

Hero — Ink Stories

“I’ve never seen a warzone, but I got a small virtual taste of what it might be like at the Tribeca Film Festival. Hero is a multisensory interactive experience that drops you into a city in Syria right before an air raid. You’re a spectator (and subsequent participant) to the minutes before and after a bomb falls and destroys everything around you. I can’t tell you too much about what happens without potentially ruining it for you, but suffice to say I became part of the community and through a simple act, briefly took on the titular role. It sounds self-aggrandizing, but that’s the whole point of the experience — to let the viewer know they have the ability to save lives and make a difference.” — Engadget

The Payoff — Visa and Conducttr

“The Payoff is an innovative financial game from Visa that uses an immersive experiential learning approach to teach teens practical money skills.

The online experience positions the player in the role of an up-and-coming YouTuber who must decide which of two major media networks can best meet their financial goals. To decide, the player must embark on a quest to create a short video and overcome a string of unfortunate events that test their financial resilience to unexpected costs.”

False Mirror — Ali Eslami

“False Mirror is an Open-ended, Interactive, Virtual Reality project. Which aims to explore speculative futurism and emerging forms of inhabiting in virtual space-times as post-humans. By creating a virtual city from ground-up that shapes and grows over time. Facing the challenge of designing such city, is a practice to think through exciting new problems that haven’t been imagined in the real life. It’s a creative but yet speculative way of approaching VR and immersive media.

It’s the basement for Imagining possible futures through the speculative design of this Virtual City, and to explore alternative forms of sovereignties, governance, etc in form of a practice-led research.” — Read More

Mind at War — Sutu

“Sutu recently produced Mind at War, a sketched Virtual Reality piece covering the effects of PTSD from the point of an American war veteran experiencing it himself. PTSD and using VR to help people with PTSD are both important topics being explored currently across the world, and this interview takes a look into a Sutu’s new piece, exploring both of these things.” — Read More

Phenomenology — Richard Lemarchand and many collaborators

“‘Phenomenology’ is an experiential virtual reality “game of vignettes” about the objects of perception, and about being present in our bodies. ‘Phenomenology’ is an ambient game. ‘Phenomenology’ is short philosophical tract. ‘Phenomenology’ is a piece of experimental aleatoric music. ‘Phenomenology’ is a score for a performance art piece where the performer and audience are the same person. ‘Phenomenology’ is a game poem.”

ANNABELLEE as above so below — Ava Lee Scott

“Annabellee is a multidimensional experience… that guides the user through different worlds in which they are the lead character. As their journey continues through the 22 paths of the Tree of Life, they discover the Major Arcana Cards. Starting out as The Fool, becoming The Magician is only a matter of time. During their journey, the user experiences the tale across immersive theater, virtual reality, 360, scripted series, and ultimately AI, harnessing the latest technologies available.”

Incarna — Jean-Noël Chiganne

“Incarna is a brand new concept of collaborative adventure. It is rooted in virtual reality experiences, role playing and escapes games. For groups of 3 to 4 players, it represents the new generation of leisure with friends.”

Umami — DVgroup

Umami is a realtime VR experience and installation immersing the user into the story of a man rediscovering his memories through a series of Japanese dishes, beverages and tastes: the sweet, the sour, the bitter, the salty and the umami: the ‘delicious taste’.

The user embodies a character digesting his own life through a phenomenon known as Madeleine de Proust. Through his interactions with the dishes memories arise unintentionally, breaking the dichotomy between present and past and taking him into an incredible journey.”

The Horrifically Real Virtuality — DVgroup

“The Horrifically Real Virtuality paints an introspective portrait of the emerging art of VR, and aims to evoke, with tenderness and self-mockery, its relationship with Cinema.

The Horrifically Real Virtuality summons the ghosts of Ed Wood Jr. (allegedly the worst movie director ever) and ageing B-movie star Bela Lugosi (the first and legendary on-screen Dracula) as they reunite to shoot their final masterpiece, starring Lugosi as a character with the ability to access a parallel dimension: the Real Virtuality, in which he encounters humanoids from another time and dimension — the audience.”

1943 Berlin Blitz — BBC

1943: Berlin Blitz is not a game; rather, it’s a short, 15-minute VR experience that places users in F for Freddie as Vaughan-Thomas’ incredible radio account plays. Users are essentially extra observers, listening in to Vaughan-Thomas as he describes the events occurring around him in real-time, but also witnessing those same events in a way the British public could never have dreamed of back in 1943.”

Half Life — Royal Swedish Ballet, Robert & Robert Studios

“The first digital dance piece staged at the Royal Swedish Opera — Sharon Eyal’s celebrated dance work Half Life in Virtual Reality (VR). Eyal’s Half Life was performed for the first time with the Royal Swedish Ballet in spring 2017. During autumn 2017, the work has been captured for Virtual Reality. This will be a new experience for the audience in which the real and the enhanced merge. This is the first time the RSO shows a purely digital work.”

Vestige — Aaron Bradbury

“In Vestige, you are surrounded primarily by blackness, grasping at emotions and memories that emerge as you navigate the space. You’re guided by the narration of Lisa as she recalls life with her young husband, Erik, and the events leading up to his tragic death. The project has already touched hearts — so much so that it became the third ever sale of a virtual reality experience at a major film festival, joining Zikr: A Sufi Revival on the slate of the UK’s new VR distributor, Other Set.” — No Film School

Thanks to everyone who helped to make this list possible

Big thanks to the following people who contributed to the discussion and/or provided recommendations of projects. Those who contributed to the list can be seen below. However, please note that it is a partial list as many others contacted me via direct message or email. I’ve only included those who commented within a public Facebook post that I made on November 28th.

Illya Szilak, Caitlin Fisher, Rob King, Monica Szwarc, Lina Srivastava, Matt Forbeck, Brandon Powers, Michael Andersen, Kathryn Yu, Pieter Blomme, Robert Pratten, Hannah Wood, Mireille Pacquet, DL Wilson, Danae Ringelmann, Isabel Fernandez, Robert Pratten, Rachel Ginsberg, Dan Mirvish, Michaela A. Holland, Hugues Sweeney, Kevin Shockey, Kent Bye, Michel Reilhac, Jason Zada, Domingo Sánchez-Mesa, Ramón Tarrés, Martiniano Caballieri

I’d also like thank the many others who directed messaged or emailed too!



lance weiler
Columbia DSL

Storyteller working with Code - Founding member & Director of the Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab - curates @creativemachines