VR and Mixed Reality Platforms Are a Paradigm Shift in Storytelling

Heather Raikes, Creative Director of 8ninths ©Robert Wright/LDV Vision Summit

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Heather Raikes, is the Creative Director of 8ninths, and she spoke at our 2016 LDV Vision Summit about design patterns for evolving storytelling through virtual mixed reality technologies.

Storytelling is in our DNA, it’s part of what makes us human. How we tell our stories shapes our culture, deeply affects how we understand ourselves and each other and engage with the world around us. I’d like to start with a macro view of some archetypal patterns that underscore the fundamentals of storytelling and contextual its evolution through emerging technologies.

The core construct of traditional storytelling is the linear narrative. The ancient art of the storyteller could be used as a starting point. Sitting around a campfire, an audience gathers usually in a circle and listens to the stories and songs of the storyteller. The temporal format is linear and continuous, and the storyteller is a clear and singular focal point for the experience. Theater offers an audience a more immersive experience of a story. Stagecraft evokes the narrative world. The audience identifies with actors portraying the story characters. The temporal experience is still linear and continuous, but the focal point is expanded from a single storyteller to the world of the stage.

The focal point is further expanded in film. The story is told from a montage of different perspectives. Temporal engagement is still linear, but the focal point shifts continuously and dramatically within the world of the screen. In television, the story becomes discontinuous and episodic. The focal point mimics film in the form of the montage within the world of the screen, but temporally the audience engages and disengages at will.

A more significant shift comes in the transition from analog to digital storytelling. Native digital storytelling is participatory and interactive, disrupting many of the tenets of classical storytelling. In gaming, the audience essentially becomes the protagonist, and their actions unfold the action of the story, which is experienced from a first person perspective.

When you follow someone on social media, you are a live witness to their story, which has no clear ending and is told from an infinite number of discrete focal points derived from their journey through life. You are presumably contributing your story to this forum as well. There becomes a merging between the story you are witnessing, the story you are telling, and the story you are living.

In virtual reality, the story you are experiencing or witnessing becomes perceptually indistinguishable from your reality. You are completely immersed in a virtual world, and on some level your neurosensory processing system believes that it is reality.

The next paradigm shift in storytelling is currently arriving with the onset of virtual and mixed reality platforms. In virtual reality, the story you are experiencing or witnessing becomes perceptually indistinguishable from your reality. You are completely immersed in a virtual world, and on some level your neurosensory processing system believes that it is reality. Comparably but differently, in mixed reality the story integrates seamlessly with your physical environment and your immediate perceptual framework, again, merging your reality with the world of the story.

©Robert Wright/LDV Vision Summit

I’m currently creative director 8ninths, a virtual and mixed reality development studio based in Seattle. We’re working in this space and applying VR and MR technologies not just to entertainment stories but also to business. We’ve found that design patterns are an important compass for our team, for our partners and clients, and for the community at large in figuring out what to make creatively of this brave new space. I’m going to give you a tip of the iceberg roadmap of our starting points in thinking about developing for these emerging media.

Virtual reality is currently in its launch phase and is presenting a spectrum of platforms ranging from high end desktop room scale VR with physical tracking systems, to mobile VR platforms, to affordable contraptions that you can snap any mobile phone into. Some of the design patterns that we’re currently exploring and developing for VR include visual grammars for 360 storytelling, temporal structures and story rhythms that are native to VR, world to world transition techniques, spherical user interface design, spatialized audio-video composition techniques, virtual embodiment and iconographic representation of physical presence in virtual spaces, and syntax for virtual collaboration.

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Mixed reality is currently pre-launch. Developer editions of Microsoft HoloLens and Meta are just starting to ship, and Magic Leap is still pre-developer release. 8ninths was one of seven companies selected worldwide to be part of an early access developer program for HoloLens, and we’ve been working with HoloLens since last fall. We did a major project with Citibank in their Innovation Lab exploring expanding information-based workflow into mixed reality. As part of that process, we created a document called the HoloLens Design Patterns that breaks down and looks at core building blocks of early holographic computing experiences.

In the interest of time, this is a five-minute talk, this story is really just beginning to unfold. That is a sincere statement. It’s a really exciting time in history. We will continue to publish virtual and mixed reality design patterns at this URL. We invite you to be part of the conversation. Thank you.

©Robert Wright/LDV Vision Summit

Originally posted on LDV Blog.